Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series:
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos "The Second Coming"
Pro: Gandolfini enters the race with three Emmys and a powerhouse submission. In a dominating performance (he has 33 minutes of screentime), we see a different side of Tony Soprano. Instead of the mob boss we're use to, we see a caring father who saves his son from his botched suicide (try to keep your composure as Gandolfini cries "it's all right baby" as he cradles his son). Gandolfini also comes to the rescue of Meadow, in the mode of committing one of the series' most gruesome actions. Calling back to his Emmy-winning performance in "Whitecaps" he also has a fight with Carmela (although not as catastrophic). He ends his submission with an epiphany at Dr. Melfi's ("don't act surprised!" he scowels) and visiting his son at the hospital.
Con: Gandolfini has only previous lost the Emmy to Dennis Franz and to James Spader (and failed to be nominated last year). With Spader back in the running, one should keep an eye out for him, but with the show earning 15 nominations in its last year, I suspect voters are willing to send it off with a few more wins.
Hugh Laurie, House "Half-Wit"
Pro: Hugh Laurie is his show, so the main attention in his submission should be his performance (he is in his submission for roughly 28 minutes). However...
Con: The majority of the attention in the submission will no doubt be with the storyline involving guest actors Kurtwood Smith and Dave Matthews. Laurie spends the entire episode being secretive and then his co-workers find out he has cancer, or rather, he is faking cancer to get some brand new drugs. It's not a sympathtic performance, and it will surely turn off voters.
Denis Leary, Rescue Me "Retards"
Pro: Voters looking for lots of range, could go for Leary. Not only does he go head-to-head with is ex-wife over who suffered more over the death of their son, he also visits his dying co-worker in the hospital. But in all of his 33 minutes of screentime, Leary's big moment comes at a bar. After trying to stay sober for the past few years, Leary enters the bar and orders a drink. When the bartender learns Leary has no money, he calls security and that's when it happens. Leary begins to rage out to the guards, the bartender and the other patrons about how screwed up his life is (ex-wife is pregnant with either his or his brother's baby, son's dead, lost co-workers in 9/11, battle scars from being a firefighter). It's a passionate five minute monologue that will surely impress voters.
Con: Last year Leary had a prime Emmy tape (his son died!) and he still lost to Kiefer Sutherland. However, last year, 24 was destined to win Drama Series and on top of that Leary's tape was a bit too subtle for voters. This year, 24 is nowehere to be found on the Drama Series category.
James Spader, Boston Legal "Angel of Death"
Pro: Spader is currently two for two, for his role as Alan Shore. This time around, Shore is down in New Orleans to help a doctor who euthanized patients who were going to die because of dehydration, starvation and every other painful way to go, thanks to Hurricane Katrina. Spader shines in his court scenes, but most in particular in his four minute closing, where he lashes out at the United State government for not being there for the victims of Katrina. It's a performance that is very similar to the win that brought him his first win for Boston Legal.
Con: The problem that Spader is going to run into this time is that he is not on screen for much of the episode. In 24 minutes, he does get that very lenghthy closing argument speech. But there are two big scenes in court where Spader is just sitting there while guest star Nia Long takes the lead. Then we have two wasted storylines about his co-workers back in Boston, who basically just want to get laid, which also distracts from Spader's performance as Denny Crane needs to get his kicks in New Orleans too. Plus he gets upstage by guest star Ann Cusack as the doctor who is on trial.
Kiefer Sutherland, 24 "Day 6: 5:00am-6:00am"
Pro: Sutherland has two particularly great scenes. The first is when he saves his nephew (as well as letting his father die the easy way...getting bombed). And the final 6 minutes where he says goodbye to guest star Kim Raver lets him shed tears and changes from yelling everywhere to a faint whisper.
Con: Sutherland has 19 minutes of screentime, which would be fantastic...if he was in the supporting races. He's gone for stretches at a time, sharing his submission with guest Powers Boothe. Up against actors with more screentime to shine, don't expect Sutherland to repeat.
I think Keifer Sutherland and Hugh Laurie are not winning this year. James Spader could provide a surprise attack (he's already done it twice), but this will come down to Denis Leary and James Gandolfini. And when push comes to shove, it is voter's last chance to award Tony Soprano. They're not going to pass that up.
1. James Gandolfini
2. Denis Leary
3. James Spader
4. Hugh Laurie
5. Keifer Sutherland