Road to the Emmys 2012: The Actress

These ladies were nominated last year and could make a return appearance this time around:

Christine Baranski
“The Good Wife”
For two years running voters have nominated this respected actress for her wry, commanding turn as law firm partner Diane Lockhart. The third season of “The Good Wife” gave Baranski plenty of juicy fodder, between her smoldering flirtations with manly suitors (Bryan Brown, Gary Cole) and the internecine battles at Lockhart Gardner.

Kathy Bates
“Harry’s Law”
Bates’ honest, engaging performance as a fired patent attorney rediscovering her love of law earned the actress an Emmy nom last season. Though the show was recently canceled by NBC, there’s no denying Bates’ popularity in the role. Plus, it’s the kind of wise, veteran turn with flashes of old-school comic flair and righteousness that continues to appeal to older voters.

Mireille Enos
“The Killing”
The show may have taken a whipping from critics and viewers with how its first season ender was handled, but the big question is whether that will affect its kudos chances for the cast. Enos’ measured, intense portrait of a dedicated cop navigating a tricky murder case and a thorny family situation earned her a lead nom last year, and with the series deepening the quagmire for Det. Linden, Enos could find herself in contention again.

Edie Falco
“Nurse Jackie”
Though it’s as much an addiction drama as an addiction comedy, Showtime’s half-hour about a flawed hospital worker has always been superbly anchored by Emmy veteran Edie Falco’s gutsy turn as the titular character. Lately the show has delved into the after-effects of Nurse Jackie owning up to her problems, offering this powerfully persuasive actress another chance at returning to the podium after winning in 2010.

Tina Fey
“30 Rock”
Fey is still the neurotic queen of primetime laffers with her game, goofy portrayal of harried showrunner and wrangler of eccentric talent Liz Lemon. Though much of “30 Rock” this year hewed to the same irreparably zany, inside-pop-culture farce, Fey’s scenes with recurring love interest James Marsden gave extra romantic-comedy shadings to her performance.

Michelle Forbes
“The Killing ”
While Forbes earned a nom in the show’s first season for her knockout portrayal of a grieving parent’s crumbling emotional state in the wake of her daughter’s murder, she has been barely noticed in creator Veena Sud’s season two storyline. Forbes might have an uphill climb getting acknowledged once again with so many other more visible performances on the show.

Mariska Hargitay
“Law & Order: SVU”
It’s eight seasons running that Hargitay has been in contention for the lead actress Emmy — she won in 2006 — but this past year a shake-up at the show with Chris Meloni’s departure and the introduction of new characters has given Hargitay’s Olivia Benson fresh storylines, including love interests, and renewed vigor.

Christina Hendricks
“Mad Men”
For two years in a row Hendricks has landed a supporting nod for her unfazed, stalwart and unapologetically feminine office secretary, Joan Holloway. With this year’s storyline seeing new-mother Joan deal decisively with a complicated marriage scenario and an episode where she sells herself, literally, for a stake in the ad firm, there’s plenty in Hendricks’s bold, magnetic portrayal to envision her possibly returning to the nominees’ circle.

Laura Linney
“The Big C”
In season two Linney continued to mine powerful strains of resolve, adventure and worry regarding not just her own cancer diagnosis but the ripple effects in her loved ones. Linney’s bonafides, and her ability to ground a tough topic in something recognizably human, keep the highly respected thesp in the kudos conversation.

Kelly Macdonald
“Boardwalk Empire”
Mousiness gave way to a new sense of power and privilege in this Scottish actress’ portrayal of Irish widow/Nucky mistress Margaret Schroeder for the second season of HBO’s Prohibition-era gangster saga. With storylines that veered from pushing back against Nucky’s criminality to engaging in a tryst, Macdonald gave the show’s most prominent female character a surer sense of belonging amidst the bootlegging and corruption arcs.

Julianna Margulies
“The Good Wife”
Between her torrid love affair with Will Gardner (Josh Charles), her frosty-and-slowly-thawing relationship with law office investigator Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) and renewed complications with her mother-in-law, it’s been a busy year for Margulies’ shrewd, sturdy attorney Alicia Florrick. Last season the actress’ magnetic combination of lawyerly resolve and dedicated mothering earned her the Emmy, and this year’s rich storylines could result in another shot at the prize.

Melissa McCarthy
“Mike & Molly”
McCarthy saw her fortunes rise even further over the past year with an Oscar nom for “Bridesmaids” and an Emmy win in this category as sweet, smart yet insecure teacher Molly Flynn. The sitcom’s second season found McCarthy going from bridesmaid to bride, however, ensuring a lot of wedding-related storylines that the actress knocked out of the park.

Elisabeth Moss
“Mad Men”
“Mad Men” has showed renewed commitment to the fascinating emergence of Moss’s Peggy as a self-made woman struggling with the limits of respect and independence. Whether confronting her mother over a live-in boyfriend or her colleagues at work over matters of credit and compensation, Peggy continues to be one of television’s best female roles, thanks to Moss’s nuanced turn.

Archie Panjabi
“The Good Wife”
Panjabi won the supporting drama actress Emmy the first year she was nominated for playing Lockhart Gardner’s mysterious, resourceful investigator Kalinda Sharma. With the third season of “The Good Wife” once again weaving a tantalizingly dark, twisted web around Kalinda’s private life and professional background, the British-born actress could again be in the mix for an Emmy.

Martha Plimpton
“Raising Hope”
One of the great sitcom treasures in recent memory has been Plimpton’s week-to-week clinic in how to be broadly funny and delicately textured at the same time in Fox’s sweetly crude white-trash satire. Never overshadowed by the often baroque gags and bursting eccentricities around her, the coarsely caring Virginia Chance offers Plimpton a solid showcase to show off her considerable comedic skills.

Amy Poehler
“Parks and Recreation”
With this show firmly shaking off its “Office”-clone accusations and becoming beloved on its own for its sweetly eccentric take on small-town governance, this year’s city council election storyline turned into a fitting referendum on Amy Poehler’s dimensional and hilarious turn as do-gooder Leslie Knope. After two years in a row as a lead actress nom, Poehler’s inspired take on an eager campaigner could, ironically, make for a celebrated reappearance on t
he Emmy ballot.

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