Gandolfini's at the head of the class

NOMINEES
James Gandolfini, “The Sopranos”
Hugh Laurie, “House”
Denis Leary, “Rescue Me”
James Spader, “Boston Legal”
Kiefer Sutherland, “24″

MARC BERMAN
MediaWeek

Since Emmy is often known to acknowledge the same people, James Gandolfini or James Spader could net another victory. (Three Emmy wins to date might lead you to believe that enough is enough for Gandolfini, but seeing the look in his eyes as the mob boss’s empire slowly went kaput is clearly worth another trip to the podium.) But the house is clearly empty without Hugh Laurie, and his odd absence on the ballot last year is likely to be redeemed with a victory. “24′s” fall from grace will not benefit Kiefer Sutherland, and “Rescue Me” is more of a cult hit, so Hugh Laurie it is.

KEVIN THOMPSON
Palm Beach Post

If “The Sopranos’ ” beefy mob boss doesn’t walk away with a little gold statue, someone should launch a Ken Starr-like investigation. Gandolfini was magnificent even as he turned Tony Soprano into an increasingly difficult character to like or root for.

As usual, there were some major snubs. I would’ve liked to have seen Michael C. Hall nominated for his fiendishly entertaining performance as a charming serial killer in Showtime’s “Dexter.” And why “Friday Night Lights” stars Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, who play an achingly realistic married couple, weren’t nominated remains a head-scratching mystery.

ROBERT BIANCO
USA Today

If Michael C. Hall had been on this list for his chillingly complex performance in “Dexter,” as he would have been if Emmy voters watched TV instead of just judging it once a year, the race would have been tougher. Even so, the winner was always likely to be James Gandolfini for a performance that was, in its last season as it was in its first, flawless. He’s created one of the seminal TV characters in Tony Soprano, and I’d expect the Academy to use this one last chance to reward him for it. I hope some day Denis Leary and Hugh Laurie have the well-deserved Emmys that have so far eluded them — but I wouldn’t expect that day to come this fall.

ROBIN ROBERTS
TVGuide.ca

Naturally, Gandolfini’s name jumps to the fore, simply because we’ll never see him inhabit Tony Soprano again. But that’s not the only reason he’ll win. His studied portrayal of a brutal mob boss elevated the character from what could have easily been a one-dimensional cliche. As hateful as “T” often was, there’s no denying Gandolfini’s depiction was riveting and, oddly, relatable. Believability is the benchmark for any actor, and Gandolfini ascended to it season after uneven season. The only one who has a chance of stealing the trophy from Gandolfini is Laurie.

Critics’ reactions in all categories were collected by TCA member Kathy Tracy.

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