Best Male Lead
Oh man this one’s tough. I could fill the podium twice over and still be fretting that the two bronzes weren’t getting enough kudos.
But I do this to myself, so let’s push on. Our top leading men, readers.
Honourable Mentions: Luke Wilson brings a lot of solid earnestness to Pat Dugan, step-father of Stargirl, a co-lead on par with his brother’s role over at Marvel; Paul Bettany nails the comedy and the tragedy of WandaVision; Karl Urban remains excellent as Billy Butcher on The Boys; and Tom Hiddleston was a predictably engaging lead on Loki YES I SAID IT Loki stans, Tom Hiddleston is an honourable mention, that’s how competitive this category is, come at me.
Anyway on to the podium, in which I’ll try to provide receipts for bumping Loki into the honourable mentions.
Bronze: Alan Tudyk as Harry Vanderspeigle, Resident Alien
Alan Tudyk has been a man in need of a star vehicle for most of the 21st century. He’s great in basically everything he does, and Resident Alien is no exception. Fish-out-of-water characters are nothing new, but Tudyk’s slightly inhuman line delivery and mannerisms are consistently fun. But he’s more than comedic: when he decides maybe he does care that his new friend Asta’s about-to-be-ex husband is hitting her, he’s downright terrifying, but in an incredibly satisfying way. Yes, the look he gives Asta’s abuser as he attempts to choke the life from him is absolutely chilling, but on the other hand I’m eternally irritated there’s not a clip of it on YouTube I can watch three times a day.
He makes his rivalry with young Max, the only person who can see his true form, entertaining on the level of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. His encounter with a man whose unborn child was taken by aliens (the Greys, who he notes are assholes) is shockingly cold. His first encounters with whiskey and weed are each hysterical. When Asta shouts that she’s not his friend, it’s crushing, and then not long after he’s trying to fold a thick-crust pizza slice like it’s Brooklyn-style, and he’s funny again. You can’t help but love alien Harry despite the fact that he’s actively trying to exterminate humanity. (I mean, after the last few years, I get it.)
Also Tudyk’s dry humour made this clip, in which he gives his thoughts on conspiracies and the other alien races, one of my most watched clips of 2021. (One mild spoiler)
Is Resident Alien the best show about an alien/aliens living among humans while secretly plotting to destroy us? Maybe, maybe not, but Tudyk makes Harry my favourite of said aliens.
Silver: Jack Quaid as Hughie Campbell, The Boys
Last year I split this one between Hughie and Butcher, because the first season hinged on both of their stories in tandem, but to me, this was more Hughie’s season. His failing attempts to take over as team leader in Butcher’s absence, his gradual but total mental collapse after Butcher’s return ramps up their crusade against Vought, his low-key performance of his utter low point inside a slowly dying whale, and his attempts to bounce back and maybe get back together with Annie January, aka Starlight. Hughie gets put through a real ringer this season, and Jack Quaid is excellent in playing it.
Gold: Tom Ellis as Lucifer Morningstar and Michael, Lucifer
Tom Ellis has been on the podium for this award every time his show has aired, and for very good reason. And what’s better than one Tom Ellis? Two of them, as Ellis not only returns as the charismatic, amusingly clueless, sometimes scary, sometimes heartbreaking Devil Trying to Make Good, but also as his mirror-opposite twin Michael. Lucifer remains amusing, charismatic, loveable, at times powerfully hot-tempered; Michael is sleazy, slimy, manipulative, smug, and not even British. Ellis provided some of the years most reliable laughs and hardest gut punches as Lucifer, then made our skin crawl as Michael. Ellis has clearly had a blast in the role, and he’s giving everything he’s got to these final seasons.
Best Female Lead
Let’s wrap up this entry with the leading ladies, a choice no easier than the fellas. Thirteen lead female performances I’ve loved, whittled to six I felt were leading the pack… and now I have to get it down to three.
Not cheating this year. No “Platinum.” I already stretched this out with the voice-over stuff.
Honourable Mentions: Brec Bassinger made a winning, confident debut as the lead of Stargirl; Sophia Di Martino gave Tom Hiddleston a run for his money as best trickster god on Loki; Erin Moriarty was great fighting corruption and kicking the stuffing out of a Nazi on The Boys.
Bronze: Sara Tomko as Asta Twelvetrees, Resident Alien
Harry might be the star of Resident Alien, but Asta has the most compelling character journey. She’s freeing herself from an abusive relationship; she’s trying to help the weird, antisocial new town doctor; she’s helping solve the previous town doctor’s murder; she’s trying to look after the now-teen daughter she gave up for adoption as a baby to protect her from her abusive partner; and grapping with the fact that the only reason she stayed with her abuser so long is the oppressive feeling her mind is feeding her that if she left him now, it meant she gave away her baby for nothing. Look at all that, it’s already a lot, just a lot, and Tomko gives a deep and powerful performance through all of it, and then on top of it all she finds out that the new town doctor she’s been getting close to is secretly an alien. She’s an entire series worth of well-played drama and then she also ends up friends with an alien. And she’s also funny, don’t let this paragraph make you think she’s not also funny. She’s Tudyk’s equal through the series, and that takes some doing.
Silver: April Bowlby as Rita Farr, Doom Patrol
The Doom Patrol are all mostly off on their own stories this season, and of those, the best arc has to be Rita’s. At first she’s trying to finally master her abilities, with the goal of maybe being a superhero like Cyborg. Or possibly with him, 60s-BBC-Avengers-style.
A goal that kind of collapses after a disastrous run-in with a disco-themed time traveller, and when the first time her costumed identity as the Beekeeper runs into a real villain and she freezes. What comes next is a struggle with imposter syndrome, going all the way back to her childhood and her emotionally absent stage mother, pushing her into acting while showing no faith in her abilities. And as a side effect, she also needs to push through decades-long sexual repression so intense that– okay any attempt to describe the events of “Sex Patrol” will sound like the fever dreams of a madman, it simply must be seen.
Bowlby’s incredible in this role, bringing us laughs and barely contained trauma while maintaining the façade of a 50s movie star pretending to have her life together.
Gold: Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff, WandaVision
The core of WandaVision is Wanda’s lifetime of trauma. Difficult childhood, test subject for Hydra, losing everyone she’s ever loved, and now she’s burying all of that by hiding in her one childhood comfort, vintage sitcoms. The show only works if Wanda can sell the trauma, and Elizabeth Olsen sells it like an air conditioner during a heatwave. Plus she’s hilarious! The sitcom episodes that open the season are incredibly funny thanks to Olsen and Bettany, and then suddenly the façade will drop slightly and Wanda goes from wacky vintage sitcom wife to straight out spooky on a dime. And she subtly adapts the sitcom wife decade by decade, going from Lucille Ball to Modern Family’s Claire Dunphy piece by piece, all the while breaking out the ice-cold witch who will brook no interference to her new life whenever needed.
Lots of people on this list can do comedy and dramatics in equal measure, sure. But few took it to these extremes, while totally nailing both. This was a perfect star vehicle for she whom Seth Rogen identified as the best Olsen.
Next time… let’s rank a bunch of shows! Who’s on top? Who’s in the Inhumans slot? We’ll find out soon!