Continuing our list of Decade Bests…and to show I don’t hate women after I kept them out of my Best Characters list…here are the five actresses who shined above all others from 2000-2009. Technically, I guess if someone was on a mostly 90s show but had an amazing season this decade, that could count. But I don’t think we’ll run into that. Unlike my character list, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the performances that defined the decade. Just the ones that really stood out.
I see the actor/actress lists more like a sports dynasty. Were the Yankees the best team of the decade? They won the first and last World Series and performed well almost every year in between. The Patriots? The Lakers? Every year’s a little different, but a dynasty is created. That’s the case with this list. Great actresses boost their significance to the decade by being spread across multiple shows and platforms. Which is exactly what THE Actress of the Decade did.
1) Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock) — There is no doubt in my mind that Tina Fey was the biggest actress of the 2000s. Let’s look at it chronologically. First off, she had nothing on her TV resume before the end of the 90s and now she’s one of the most famous actresses in the country. She ascended to the top of Saturday Night Live’s pecking order early this century, quickly becoming a fan favorite. She transitioned that success into the incredibly popular movie Mean Girls (which she wrote…as she did most skits on SNL). And after leaving Saturday Night Live, what did Fey do to keep up? Created and wrote 30 Rock, a hilarious comedy that has won the Emmy every year since it’s creation, and given Fey two individual nods. Oh, and if that’s not enough, Fey became even more popular with her spot-on impression of Sarah Palin during the 2008 election…also earning her an Emmy. She might be the funniest actress since Mary Tyler Moore…and is definitely the best female writer. It’s Tina Fey’s world and we’re just watching it.
2) Edie Falco (The Sopranos) — How do you play the devoted wife of a killer and not seem like a naive sap? The way Falco did. Carmella always knew what was going on. She saw through Tony’s BS and chose to stay with him, because she herself had problems. But Falco fought to make her character strong, not just a victim of circumstances. Every decision Carmella made, be it small (getting her kid’s form signed) or large (having or not having an affair), Falco showed the power inside her character. Scenes with Gandolfini were always riveting, and unlike some other acclaimed dramas, I never screamed for the lead female character to get off the screen (ahem, Mad Men). The whole range of human emotion could be seen in Falco at any given moment. A flicker of her eyes could tell you what she was thinking. Fantastic dramatic actress.
3) Allison Janney (The West Wing) — The actual West Wing — and all of DC for that matter — is a boy’s world. And fast paced scripts from Aaron Sorkin seemed almost intended for those good old boys. But CJ Cregg was just as much a part of the decision making and fast talking as anyone else in that White House. And that’s thanks to Janney. She managed to find in Cregg the difficult balance of professionalism and compassion, often finding pet concerns or uncovering painful realities that she, as a political outsider, struggled with. When she disagreed with a decision, she let it be known before going about her job. I still don’t like the writers’ decision to promote her to Chief of Staff, but even in that role Janney evolved and gave CJ a new outlook. She almost became Leo. If you need proof that Janney belongs on this list, watch “The Long Goodbye.” The only episode of the series where one character goes off and has an entire episode just to her or himself. The acting in that episode alone is one of the best performances of the decade.
4) Glenn Close (The Shield, Damages) — I love Glenn Close’s masterful performance in Damages but was hesitant to include her after just two seasons. Then I remembered she was in The Shield, which I heard fantastic things about…plus it earned her an Emmy (as did Damages). A pair of Emmys is a good place to start for being one of the best TV Actresses of the Decade. I can’t speak on her Shield performance, but as Patty Hewes, Close dominates every scene she’s in. You can’t take your eyes off her. You never know what she’ll say next or, more importantly, how she’ll say it. The most common phrase can become a biting judgment. Her eyes will turn you to ice, her smile make you squirm. It’s actually very similar to her role as Cruella de Vil…only much more dramatic.
5) Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) — After three seasons, it’s criminal that Britton hasn’t been nominated for an Emmy. Especially in an awards association that relies so heavily on critics over viewers. As Tami Taylor, Britton exhibits every single quality that makes the others on this list award-winners. She has the resolve of Close, the complexity of Falco, the compassion of Janney. Even some humor…though not on Fey’s level. Plus, she improvises a large part of her scenes with Kyle Chandler, showing her natural acting chops. She makes her role as a small town coach’s wife and school principal seem about as realistic as a show can get. And as anyone who acts knows, “not acting” is one of the toughest skills there is.