Who Will Make Emmy Happy?

You need proof that comedy is on an upswing? Consider how much more competitive these acting categories have become.

Start with Baldwin, who earned his spot on the list early on with his "role-playing" stint — perhaps the single funniest scene of the season. Then move on to two sterling newcomers: Parsons, whose socially challenged Sheldon is the season's breakout comedy character, and Pace, whose sweet, low-key appeal keeps you invested in the show's outlandish situations.

Levi showed he could do comedy in "Less Than Perfect"; with Chuck, he shows he has enough goofy good-guy charm to carry a show. And while we knew Duchovny could do both comedy and drama, the rumpled charisma he brings to "Californication" is something of a revelation.

Unfortunately, that does mean skipping over "Big Bang's" Johnny Galecki along with the two men of CBS' "Two and a Half Men" — Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen. And voters will have to figure out what to do with Ricky Gervais, who was back in HBO's "Extras" this season, but only for one episode. He was brilliant, but one episode does not a season make.

Lead actress, comedy

America Ferrera, "Ugly Betty", ABC

Tracey Ullman, "State of the Union", Showtime

Anna Friel, "Pushing Daisies", ABC

Christina Applegate, "Samantha Who?", ABC

Dana Delany, "Desperate Housewives", ABC

Some years you have to stretch to find five actors to fill out this category. Now you have to leave some worthy contenders out, which is a welcome sign of improvement for us, if not for the out-ees.

And look at the range of acting styles the category encompasses. Delany, who sparked a Housewives revival, could just as easily fit on the drama list but will probably end up here. Ferrera is the tender heart that keeps "Betty" alive, while Friel was so winsome and witty, you immediately understood why a man would bring her back from the dead.

Applegate actually played two roles on "Samantha", old Sam and new, and did both impeccably. As for Ullman, she can do anything — and on Union, she pretty much did.

It breaks my heart to leave out Mary-Louise Parker ("Showtime's Weeds"), Felicity Huffman ("Desperate Housewives") and Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("The New Adventures of Old Christine"), but choices have to be made. And speaking of, there's a good chance voters will choose Tina Fey — but only if they ignore the damage she did to her show in its spring run.

Lead actor, drama

Michael C. Hall, "Dexter", Showtime

Hugh Laurie, "House", Fox

Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad", AMC

Jon Hamm, "Mad Men", AMC

Patrick Dempsey, "Grey's Anatomy", ABC

Talk about a category that could withstand massive expansion. Indeed, it's the only one where you could come up with an entirely different slate, and no one could complain.

So why these five? Let's start with two performances that deserve attention not just because they were terrific (though they were), but also because they were new, and Emmy always needs a nudge when it comes to the new. Cranston was riveting and fearless as a dying geek turned drug dealer, and Hamm's deceptively cool adman was simply one of the great breakthrough star turns of the season.

When it comes to deception, no one tops Hall as TV's most magnetic killer-in-hiding. And if he hadn't already, Laurie cemented his spot on the ballot with his moving work in the season finale.

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