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Among the contenders

Road to the Emmys 2012: Guest Stars

Ellen Barkin
“Modern Family”
As cunning real estate agent Mitzi Roth, Barkin proved a worthy adversary of Phil Dunphy, and mostly stayed one step ahead of him. Barkin made Roth an intimidating figure who also showed a soft side when falling for little Luke’s ploy to guilt her into turning over the listing.

Kathy Bates
“Two and a Half Men”
As the cigar-smoking ghost of Charlie Harper dispatched from hell, Bates seemed to have a good time messing with Jon Cryer’s Alan. She brought some class and sportsmanship to scenes that otherwise relied too much on the show’s trademark broad, tawdry humor.

Steven Bauer
“Breaking Bad”
Putting the very, very bad in “Bad,” Bauer played the menacing Don Eladio, the head of the Mexican cartel who has no problem whatsoever killing whoever gets in the way of his drug operation.

Yasiin Bey
“Dexter”
Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, portrayed Brother Sam, a hardened ex-con who claims to have found religion. He shared some memorable scenes with Michael C. Hall, bringing out traits in Dexter rarely seen before.

Alexis Bledel
“Mad Men”
As troubled suburban housewife Beth, the erstwhile “Gilmore Girl” fueled Pete Campbell’s disturbing personal arc, playing sexy with a deer-in-the-headlights quality.

Lizzie Caplan
“New Girl”
One of many of Nick’s girlfriends, Caplan’s Julia didn’t want to take things too seriously. She proves a great foil to Zooey Deschanel’s cute Jess with her snark and ‘tude.

Charlie Cox
“Boardwalk Empire”
Cox brought Irish intensity and politically charged passion to Nucky Thompson’s household, which made him an effective bodyguard for his boss and an irresistible attraction for the boss’ companion. Cox’s segued from scheming to seductive with ease, making him a standout even among a cast packed with enigmatic performers.

Hugh Dancy
“The Big C”
A fellow patient undergoing cancer trials, Dancy becomes Cathy’s soulmate, inspiring and motivating her while they both go through hellacious medical issues. The actor lost 30 lbs. for the role, and the transformation from the first time auds see him until later on is striking.

Rockmund Dunbar
“Sons of Anarchy”
Wanting to feel like he was helping to make Charming a safer town, Dunbar smartly played tough and sincere as a deputy sheriff who ultimately was betrayed by his own alliance rather than any member of the motorcycle club.

David Eigenberg
Law & Order: SVU”
The venerable Peacock procedural always touts a strong lineup of guest stars. Among this year’s class was former “Sex and the City” co-star Eigenberg, who plays a psychiatrist with a traumatic family history.

Ben Feldman
“Mad Men”
Bursting into the “Mad” milieu with an energy little-seen on the erudite show, Feldman quickly brought to life the role of young ad man Michael Ginsberg. His outer-space origin fable was one of the season’s most poignant moments.

Gina Gershon
“How to Make It in America”
In his quest to get his fashion line up and running but, in reality, making what turns out to be a bad career move, Ben (Bryan Greenberg) takes the sultry Gershon’s pants off, literally, as the two trade a quickie for a hoodie.

Kathryn Hahn
“Parks and Recreation”
Undaunted by the early season cancelation of NBC’s “Free Agents,” Hahn moved over to NBC’s “Parks” and took it by storm as a confident political operative (then threw in a memorable scene on HBO’s “Girls” for good measure).

Dot Marie Jones
“Glee”
As tough but sensitive football coach Shannon Beiste, Jones especially shone in the episode that dealt with her physical and mental abuse. She leaves her abusive husband, then returns to give him a second chance because she fears she’ll end up alone.

Greg Kinnear
“Modern Family”
Kinnear’s Tad is selling his luxury home and Phil is bending over backward in trying to get the listing. Kinnear is spot on as the guy who may or may not be hitting on Phil’s wife, Claire.

Lucy Liu
“Southland”
The casting of Liu seemed a head-scratcher at first, but the actress proved an easy fit with the show’s naturalistic, run-and-gun shooting style. She infused the coolly ambitious Officer Jessica Tang with a morbid sense of humor and flinty willingness to cut corners in the pursuit of her job — and the best of L.A.’s food trucks.

Mark Pellegrino
“The Closer”
Playing Brenda Leigh Johnson’s attorney in a mounting federal investigation, Pellegrino uses every legal tactic at his disposal in defending the chief against serious charges.

Matthew Perry
“The Good Wife”
In addition to his comedic lineage, Perry has serious drama chops, as evidenced on series such as “The West Wing,” “Studio 60” and now a nice turn on “The Good Wife.” Sitting on a legal panel investigating a homicide, Perry’s Mike Kresteva ultimately used Alicia’s curiosity as a way of setting up a governor’s race between himself and Peter Florrick.

Carrie Preston
“The Good Wife”
Her questions might seem out of touch with the important matters of a case, but Preston’s deliberate and cunning Elsbeth is an attorney not to be taken lightly.

Mary Steenburgen
“30 Rock”
With her daughter (Elizabeth Banks) being held in North Korea and feeling vulnerable, Steenburgen makes a connection with lonely son-in-law Jack Donaghy in icky ways that neither want to cop to.

Paul Rudd
“Parks and Recreation”
There’s seemingly no project where Rudd can’t find instant chemistry. His vacuous-with-a-heart-of-gold political rival to Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope was no exception.

William Shatner
“Psych”
As a con man looking to reconnect with Juliet, it’s impossible to say if his real intentions were to bond with daughter or just use her in his latest scheme.

Uma Thurman
“Smash”
It takes a unique actress to handle a meta-stunt like having a real-life movie star join a TV show for a guest arc to play a fictional movie star who joins a musical about a movie icon. But Thurman pulled it off, and even sang for the role.

Maura Tierney
“Rescue Me”
In some ways Tierney’s cancer-stricken Kelly McPhee was the female Tommy Gavin. She took no gruff from Gavin and the two found they were able to penetrate each other’s souls, in a mostly nonsexual way.

Michael K. Williams
“Community”
The “Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire” alum commanded the screen in each of his “Community” forays, peaking with a memorable monologue lamenting the current state of Lego.

Mykelti Williamson
“Justified”
Handy with a butcher’s knife and not afraid to use it for nonculinary reasons, Williamson’s amiable Ellstin Limehouse was deeply embroiled in the Kentucky drug trade that Raylan Givens spent all season trying to decipher.

Jeffrey Wright
“House”
Wright added a touch of gravitas in the good doc’s final season as a renowned neurosurgeon who tries to gather insight into the team’s collaborative ways following a patient’s life-threatening incident.

Robin Wright
“Enlightened”
It’s not easy to steal scenes in a comedy that boasts Laura Dern and Luke Wilson, but Wright managed to run away with an entire episode as the flaky yoga instructor who comes between the ex-couple.

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