COMEDY LEAD ACTOR
Steve Carell, “The Office”: His Michael Scott remains fascinatingly comic and tragic at once, united by the aching desperation to be liked that Carell makes so real. If you think it’s easy to be endearing while forever walking around with your foot in your mouth, you’ve got another thing coming. (That’s what she said.)
Ricky Gervais, “Extras”: Gervais still fights off crowdpleasing sentimentality in order to push the envelope of dark comedy. Greater exposure than six episodes a year on HBO would probably make his anguished portrayal of live-by-the-sitcom, die-by-the-sitcom actor Andy Millman an Emmy front-runner.
Jason Lee, “My Name Is Earl”: He puts the hick in Hickey all right, but Lee also brings a wide-eyed sweetness to his portrayal of the title character that sets the tone for his show — and, in fact, for NBC’s acclaimed Thursday night comedy lineup.
Tony Shalhoub, “Monk”: Even Shalhoub seems embarrassed at this point for all the awards affection he’s gotten for playing an OCD-afflicted cop on “Monk.” With three wins over the past four years, the only way his streak might end is if he starts stepping on the cracks of the sidewalk.
Charlie Sheen, “Two and a Half Men”: Some inevitably try to dismiss Sheen and his show, but both are more sophisticated than typically given credit for. In several ways, Sheen makes his namesake character the natural descendant of Sam Malone from “Cheers” — a skirt chaser to be sure, but also more thoughtful and witty and urbane than you’d expect.
COMEDY SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jon Cryer, “Two and a Half Men”: After years of moving from pilot to pilot, Cryer has a hit on his hands. He and Sheen form a fine comedic duo in a successful studio-audience sitcom, a genre that seems out of style these days amid all the single-camera laffers.
Neil Patrick Harris, “How I Met Your Mother”: When folks think of “How I Met Your Mother,” does the “I” first come to mind? Nope, it’s Harris’ Barney, who could be on “America’s Most Wanted” for the awesome number of scenes he has stolen. Harris definitely brings a “what will he do next” delight to the series.
Justin Kirk, “Weeds”: Kirk, who opened viewers’ eyes in “Angels in America,” continues to show off his underappreciated skills as Andy, whose quest to turn to Judaism and become a rabbi to avoid serving in Iraq was revelatory.
John Krasinski, “The Office”: Like Jason Bateman’s underrated work on “Arrested Development,” Krasinski’s low-key style can get overshadowed by more flamboyant performances, but his dry nods to the camera and torment of less savvy colleagues — not to mention his romantic angst — are priceless.
Jeremy Piven, “Entourage”: Ari Gold took his rightful place among the kings of the world when Piven won the Emmy in this category a year ago. To his credit, Piven has not allowed Ari to become stale or a cliche in the current season — the collective mania of Ari’s existence snowballs palpably through Piven’s performance.