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10 most intriguing TV people of 2018

December 29, 2018

This was a banner year for intriguing TV people, so culling a list like this is both tricky and perilous. Surely Roseanne Barr should be on any “Intriguing List” (right?), except that her demise was more along the lines of “sad” instead of “intriguing.” Hence, no Rosie. Surely Meghan Markle is intriguing — except that she already made Google’s top 10 “intriguing” list (#2 spot) which means she’s officially “intrigue” overkill.

Therefore my 2018 list — arbitrary, quixotic, hardly scientific but still governed (I hope) by a sense that these people have done something interesting yet also outside the bounds of convention. Maybe they changed history (inadvertently) or changed TV. Some are familiar, some less so, but familiarity isn’t the metric.

1. SANDRA OH

After Oh became the first woman of Asian descent to get a best actress Emmy nod, the first reaction was “how is that even possible?” It’s possible because there have been so few Asian actresses in the history of U.S. TV. See? Simple question, simple answer. Oh didn’t win because the Academy wanted to reward Claire Foy for her last season on “The Crown,” but there’s always next season for Oh, along with the possibility that her accomplishment will open the door for others.

2. JODIE WHITTAKER

Whittaker became the first female Doctor Who in the (long) history of one of TV’s venerable enterprises but earned plaudits for a spirited groundbreaking performance. She’ll be back and “Who” will never be the same, and couldn’t possibly be.

3. CRAIG MELVIN

Quietly and without so much as a news release or 30 Rock party in his honor, Melvin joined Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie on “Today,” TV’s most venerable morning show this year as Matt Lauer’s replacement. The stealth move made some sense — NBC News wanted to and largely managed to avoid distracting stories about The Guy Who Replaced Matt, but Melvin is that guy and should be for years to come.

4. ILLEANA DOUGLAS

After the veteran actress stepped forward in a New Yorker investigation, identifying herself as a sexual harassment victim of CBS chief Leslie Moonves, other accusers soon followed. The most powerful man in television would soon be deposed while the reckoning that Douglas initiated continues at CBS.

5. PETE DAVIDSON

This talented “Saturday Night Live” cast member had a breakout year, but also a troubling one. An engagement to Ariana Grande was broken off, and his private life suddenly superseded his late-night one.

6. TERENCE NANCE

Well-regarded indie film producer (“An Oversimplification of Her Beauty”) gets a late-night TV show at HBO (“Random Acts of Flyness”), also well-regarded, then finds himself on the vanguard of a new — and diverse — set of other TV comedy hosts, including Hasan Minhaj who landed his own series at Netflix in this year, and Wyatt Cenac, also at HBO.

7. SARAYU BLUE

She became only the second South Asian lead on a network commercial series, NBC’s “I Feel Bad.” Blue finds herself on a vanguard of her own in ’18 — more South Asians are now starring on more streaming and broadcast series than ever before.

8. ZAZIE BEETZ

For all the acclaim at FX’s “Atlanta,” Beetz (who plays Van) seemed to get left out of the discussion of the first season. That ended in the second, when she got an Emmy nod and was suddenly anointed one of those emerging “actors to watch.” For good reason, while viewers/movie goers will be watching a lot more of her in 2019 and beyond — notably in the Todd Phillips-directed DC superhero flick, “Joker,” and “Pale Blue Dot,” where she’ll star alongside Natalie Portman and Jon Hamm.

9. HANNAH GADSBY

While Gadsby — a lesbian stand-up comedian from Tasmania — has had a following Down Under for years, it took one little Netflix special (“Nanette”) to bring global acclaim. What’s next for Gadsby? Probably whatever she wants.

10. MICHELLE WOLF

The veteran “Late Night with Seth Meyers” regular blew up the White House Correspondents’ Dinner! Which sounds like hyperbole, except that it’s not. Wolf’s stand-up routine at this year’s dinner was so outrageous — and effective — that the White House Correspondents’ Association will forego comedy at the 2019 dinner, leaving attendees to quietly pick at their rubber chicken.

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