Best scene: Puppy-dog earnest dad Phil switches roles with his more tough-minded wife Claire (Julie Bowen) to play “bad cop” to his kids. He goes to extremes and becomes dictatorial while making them clean the bathroom.
Why he might win: Burrell stands out in the ensemble for his wide-ranging vocabulary of physical comedy moves — going from subtle anxious tics to all-out pratfalls — yet he maintains enough naturalism to make his character believable as the family breadwinner.
Maybe not: He’s talked up his co-stars so much — all of the show’s men are nominated in this category — that voters might listen to what he’s been saying and give the gold to Ed O’Neill.
Best scene: Colfer’s character Kurt slowly breaks down in tears as he speaks to his comatose, unresponsive father in the hospital. The actor plays such a mix of vulnerability, hope, and regret that it would be hard for anyone watching not to cry along with him.
Why he might win: His Golden Globe is clearly a huge indication of Colfer’s strong chances. The hourlong “Glee” format gives voters more of an opportunity to see how he approaches his character’s arc over the course of an episode.
Maybe not: Some believe “Glee” is misplaced in the comedy category and that could make them hesitant to vote for Colfer.
“Two and a Half Men”
Best scene: Alan has a sneaky streak and it shows itself when he pretends to be his much slicker and better-looking brother (Charlie Sheen). As part of the ruse plays piano, badly butchering classic Billy Joel songs.
Why he might win: He’s been nominated for this role six years in a row, winning in 2009. The show was at the center of an unasked-for publicity storm, and the revelations about the difficult personality of his now fired co-star could make Cryer’s work even more impressive.
Maybe not: Though no fault of his own, of course, the Charlie Sheen brouhaha gave many a bad taste of “Men,” and Cryer may suffer for it.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson
Best scene: Mitchell wears a Spider-Man costume to work but no one else is dressed up. He tries to change into a suit in a bathroom stall but encounters multiple obstacles.
Why he might win: Ferguson’s impeccable comic timing is on display every time appearance-obsessed Mitchell realizes a microsecond too late that he’s said or done the wrong thing.
Maybe not: Although Ferguson was nominated last year, voters chose co-star Eric Stonestreet. Ferguson doesn’t get to do the same amount of scene-stealing physical comedy as co-stars Burrell and Stonestreet.
Best scene: As gruff patriarch Jay, O’Neill is dismissive and brusque when the entire family confronts him about his inability to express affection. When they make him realize he’s out of touch with his emotions, we see a man whose toughness is born from his desire to be a good provider.
Why he might win: Incredibly, this is O’Neill’s first Emmy nom following a 40-year career. He’s taken the iconic grumpy old man character and reinvented it for the 21st century.
Maybe not: Though it clearly shouldn’t, the Al Bundy stigma may still hang over O’Neill.
Best scene: Stonestreet’s needy, nurturing Cam complains to his partner about being labeled “the mom” in their gay family. As a series of events unfold in the park where they’re strolling, he goes from huffy to macho to effeminate in the span of a few seconds.
Why he might win: He got the gold in this category in 2010, and Emmy voters aren’t shy about two-peats. His pratfalls have the elegance and complexity of a Cirque du Soleil routine.
Maybe not: With all the “Modern Family” men nominated, voters could get series fatigue.
TV’s team players
Supporting Actor – Drama | Supporting Actress – Drama | Supporting Actor – Comedy | Supporting Actress – Comedy