Michael Chiklis (Mackie, The Shield): The former Commish and Daddio star continues his career transformation in this dark crime drama's best season yet. Like a Soprano with a badge, Vic Mackey is part cop, part crook — and thanks to Chiklis's crafty and muscular intensity, always scarily unpredictable.Peter Gallagher (Sandy, The O.C.): Since Emmy loves to honor showy performances, Gallagher's subtle work as the wry patriarch of Fox's beachfront sudser is likely to go unnoticed. That's too bad: He anchors the whippersnappers' Sturm und Drang in heart and soul, making a show about plastic people feel breathtakingly real.James Gandolfini (Tony, The Sopranos): By now, we've come to think of Gandolfini as a slugger. Throw him anything, and he'll hit it outta the park. So we weren't surprised that he was able to reveal even more new facets of his small-screen Don Corleone upon the introduction of Tony's cousin, Tony B., and his dad's mistress. We were, however, impressed.Julian McMahon (Christian, Nip/Tuck): He's so much more than a pretty face and hot bod. Playing a cocky plastic surgeon whose extreme makeovers invariably involve seduction, McMahon exudes a dangerous charisma that can't quite disguise his achingly lonely heart.Kiefer Sutherland (Jack, 24): Reminding us that modern Supermen require more than multicolored Danskins to save the day, Sutherland exhausts us — in a good way — by not only letting Jack carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, but by showing us the toll that his burden takes.
Lead Actress — Drama
Edie Falco (Carmela, The Sopranos): By now, Falco has so many golden girls in her trophy case, they might as well be renamed the Edie. But you know what? She's earned every single statuette, and deserves to go for another for her performance as Carmela flirted — and we do mean flirted — with life after Tony.Jennifer Garner (Sydney, Alias): Even in a subpar season, Garner shines as TV's most glamorous, emotionally vulnerable yet physically indomitable superspy. Those wigs! Those kicks! Those tears! That's what we call star quality.Carla Gugino (Karen, Karen Sisco): Karen, we hardly knew ya. But we loved ya. As the sexiest U.S. Marshal to ever give chase to endearing lowlifes, Gugino brought a wry humor and smoldering sensuality to a great character that deserved a wider audience.Mariska Hargitay (Olivia, Law & Order: SVU): Possibly the most underrated actress on TV, Hargitay takes what could have been a by-the-book cop role, throws out the book, then rewrites it. But maybe the Academy devalues her so because, while she imbues her crimefighting counterpart with enviable smarts and warmth, she makes it look so easy.Amber Tamblyn (Joan, Joan of Arcadia): God bless her. Tamblyn's Joan may talk to God, but she's the anti-Touched by an Angel. Cranky, rebellious, insecure and oh so real, she's the freshest, funkiest TV ingenue since Claire Danes in My So-Called Life.
Supporting Actor — Drama
Christopher Bauer (Frank, The Wire): Playing the sort of ill-fated antihero that's a character actor's dream, Bauer conveyed a sorrowful dignity as the decent but tainted union leader of a corrupt waterfront dock, his life unraveling under the scrutiny of an undercover police investigation.Adam Brody (Seth, The O.C.): Whether he's pulling "bro" Ryan's leg or tugging at girlfriend Summer's heartstrings, geek god Brody never fails to charm. If for nothing more than carving himself a niche as the Gen-Y Jimmy Stewart, doesn't this Gilmore Girls alum deserve an early Chrismukkah present?Michael Imperioli (Christopher, The Sopranos): Frightening in his murderously violent fits of jealousy and betrayed rage, Imperioli also makes you believe in the pathos and frustration of a mob soldier and backsliding addict who yearns in vain for respect and success.James Marsters (Spike, Angel): When is somebody going to give this snarky, scampy vamp his own spinoff? Effortlessly stealing scene after scene with a surly punk attitude and effortless sex appeal, Marsters sinks his teeth into the role of an afterlife-time.Benito Martinez (Aceveda, The Shield): Confession No. 1: Martinez had never really blown our minds on The Shield. Confession No. 2: That is, he hadn't until this season. Aceveda's rape plotline was more than wince-inducing; it ought to be win-inducing.
Supporting Actress — Drama
Amy Acker (Fred/Illyria, Angel): We merely endured Acker as perky science geek Fred. But we were mesmerized by her powerful, sexy performance as Illyria, the demon ruler from the ancient past who possessed Fred's body, an old soul who had nothing but contempt for pesky humans. Who knew?Clea Duvall (Sofie, Carnivale): A standout in the season's most underrated freak show, the downscaled movie actress (She's All That, The Faculty), playing a tarot-card reader, communicated telepathically with her comatose mother, questioned her sexuality and did the kind of daring work for which indie actresses are feted at Sundance.CCH Pounder (Claudette, The Shield): It takes a helluva woman to go toe-to-toe with Mackey, and — the devil you say — Pounder's Claudette is just such a woman. But despite the policewoman's tough-as-nails exterior, Pounder, in the role of her career, never fails to illuminate the human being underneath.Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe, 24): Chloe's permascowl made her CTU cohorts shudder — and had viewers howling. To say the least, we were relieved by the comedy Rajskub added to 24. Sure, in real life, we'd want Chloe canned. But here, we want to give her pretty, pretty prizes!Joely Richardson (Julia, Nip/Tuck): Quivering with repressed, nervous and unfulfilled sexuality, the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave made a name for herself in this juicy role of an emotionally frustrated doctor's wife.Drea de Matteo (Adriana, The Sopranos): What does she have to do, die to get an Emmy nomination? As the doomed, trapped Adriana, who could have been a caricature in lesser hands, the future Joey star was the anguished heart and soul of The Sopranos this season. Due to a surplus of talent in this category, we included six nominees — one more than Emmy rules allow. (You try knocking one of these ladies off the list.)
To read our comedy acting picks, click here.