The Guest Acting categories contain a vast number of possibilities. The comedy ones were especially hard to narrow down to six, but I eventually made a final list. It's difficult to compare one-episode performances to multi-episode arcs, but certain actors leave a greater impression in a single episode than others make in an entire season. Though stunt casting is often criticized, several of the big names are the best in their respective categories. Again, obviously I can't watch everything on television (though I certainly try) so I apologize for any significant omissions.
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
James Franco, 30 Rock - He may have been playing himself (sort of), but that doesn't mean he wasn't hilarious! Making fun of yourself is always funny, especially when you squint a lot and have an affair with a Japanese pillow.
Steve Guttenberg, Party Down - Interestingly enough, two actors made it into this category playing caricatures of themselves. Guttenberg was less over the top than Franco but starred in perhaps the funniest episode of Party Down to date.
Neil Patrick Harris, Glee (Bryan Ryan) - The Broadway star strutted his stuff on the hot musical show and performed an excellent rendition of Aerosmith's "Dream On." Thanks to NPH, the episode stands out as one of the best among the season's weaker (in my opinion) second half. His nomination here also makes up for his likely omission from a future Emmy Wish List of mine...
Rob Lowe, Parks & Recreation (Chris Traeger) - Most critics have been praising Adam Scott's guest appearance on Parks, but Rob Lowe is (surprisingly) the funnier of the two. It's refreshing to see him move on from his dramatic work on Brothers & Sisters to something much more enjoyable.
Mike O'Malley, Glee (Burt Hummel) - If it were up to me, I would give him the Emmy right now. His work with Chris Colfer is phenomenal. The only thing working against him is his largely dramatic role forced into a comedic category.
Fred Willard, Modern Family (Frank Dunphy) - The casting here was spot on. His chemistry with Ty Burrell was perfect. Let's hope there's plenty more Willard in Modern Family's future.
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
Christine Baranski, The Big Bang Theory (Beverly Hofstadter) - Playing Leonard's Sheldon-like genius mother was enough to earn Baranski a nomination last year. This year Leonard's Sheldon-like genius mother got drunk.
Elizabeth Banks, 30 Rock (Avery Jessup) - All I can say is I hope this season's finale means that Banks will be staying around 3o Rock for a while. I understand that she has a movie career to attend to, but her role as Jack's lover, the right wing political pundit, may be her best yet.
Kristin Chenoweth, Glee (April Rhodes) - Emmy winner Kristin Chenoweth (I love saying that) gave yet another Emmy-worthy performance in her first episode of Glee as the washed up ex-show choir star. From boxed wine to Broadway show tunes, her guest appearance was the funniest of the entire season.
Jan Hooks, 3o Rock (Verna Maroney) - For years Elaine Stritch has been the go-to 3o Rock mother for guest actress nominations, but this year we were introduced to Jenna's mother. After a duet with Jenna and a pair of lopsided boobs, I'm ready for Hooks to take her place.
Megan Mullally, Parks & Recreation (Tammy Swanson) - Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally used their off-screen marriage to create onscreen chemistry as ex- husband and wife on Parks. Her evil librarian paired with his deadpan anti-government government official provided great comedy in the show's hilarious second season.
Betty White, Saturday Night Live - The woman can't be stopped. She hosted the best episode SNL has seen in years. Sure, it was also thanks to return of several SNL favorites, but it wouldn't have been possible without Betty White.
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series
Henry Ian Cusick, Lost (Desmond Hume) - Desmond is the heart of Lost, there's no doubt about it. In its final season, he brought the castaways together in the flash-sideways world, causing them to remember their previous lives on The Island. Without him, many of the season's greatest scenes would not have been possible.
Ted Danson, Damages (Arthur Frobisher) - Danson has been pretty consistent with the quality he delivers on Damages. When the drama needs comic relief, he can provide it, but when his role demands intensity, he performs just as well.
Zach Gilford, Friday Night Lights (Matt Saracen) - Two words: "The Son." I never expected Gilford to move me in one episode as much as Connie Britton has for three seasons. The man made me cry three times in 45 minutes. He needs an Emmy. Now. There's even a Facebook group.
Jared Harris and Robert Morse, Mad Men (Lane Pryce and Bert Cooper) - I'm lumping the two of them together because I don't really have much to say about either, except that they are great parts of Mad Men's excellent ensemble (it's been almost a year since I saw the third season, so give me a break). Morse's old Cooper keeps me laughing, while it was interesting to see the British Pryce fit into the American world of Sterling Cooper.
John Lithgow, Dexter - Unfortunately, I have not yet gotten to see the fourth season of Dexter. So Lithgow is here out of obligation (and a lack of other strong contenders, which could also be due to unfinished viewings of other series, such as Breaking Bad). He will most likely win the Emmy, so I would feel foolish to leave the much buzzed-about performance off of my list.
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
Allison Janney, Lost (Mother) - A divisive performance in a controversial episode. I'm on team "'Across the Sea' Was Amazing." I'm also on team "I Love Allison Janney No Matter What She Does." Many argue that the episode relied on Janney's stunt casting, but her portrayal of the mother of the good and evil of The Island was fantastic.
Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost (Juliet Burke) - Her reconnection with Sawyer in the series finale is one of my favorite scenes in the series. Her destruction of the bomb in the season five finale (which was thankfully replayed several times this season) is also one of the best. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Mitchell was overlooked last year as a Supporting Actress, so hopefully that won't happen again this year (unlikely).
Kiernan Shipka, Mad Men (Sally Draper) - Yes, I'm 100% serious. Go back and watch the episode when Gene dies and tell me she doesn't deserve a spot on this list. I dare you.
Sissy Spacek, Big Love (Marilyn Densham) - The Oscar-winner lent her talents to the polygamy drama as the woman who fought against Bill's campaign and casino. Though season four may not be the show's best, Spacek played an excellent villainess for the Henrickson clan.
Lily Tomlin, Damages (Marilyn Tobin) - Damages has great guest stars involved in its season-long mysteries. Lily Tomlin was no exception as the mother who would do anything to protect her family. Anything.
Evan Rachel Wood, True Blood (Sophie-Anne) - "Yahtzee!" The vampire queen of Louisiana will most likely be my only nomination for the series (which I believe is extremely melodramatic and over-acted... but highly addicting), but that's because in just two small appearances she quickly became one of my favorite characters on the show. I can't wait for more Sophie-Anne in season three.
Coming Soon: My picks for Outstanding Supporting Actresses
Breaking Bad Season 2
Episode 8 - Better Call Saul