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Emmy diva smackdown: Julianna Margulies vs. Elisabeth Moss

September 13, 2011 |  5:52 pm

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Last year, most Emmy pundits foolishly believed Julianna Margulies would win lead drama actress for "The Good Wife" even though we knew she picked the wrong sample episode to be evaluated by judges. Instead of submitting the excellent pilot, she picked her subdued performance in "Threesome" and lost to Kyra Sedgwick. This year, Margulies wised up and submitted "In Sickness," in which she kicks her husband out of the house after learning that he once slept with her best friend, Kalinda (Archie Panjabi). Then she has a tearful powwow with her children and battles guest star Martha Plimpton in court. All that can be hard to beat.

But it's beatable. Also submitting a powerhouse episode is Elisabeth Moss, who promoted herself to the lead category after receiving a supporting actress nomination for "Mad Men" last year. In her submission episode, "The Suitcase," she and Jon Hamm bond, battle and get drunk while putting together an ad campaign for Samsonite.

Most Emmy watchers agree that this Emmy race is a close one between Moss and Margulies, but an unlikely contender has a better than expected chance to upset, because "The Killing's" Mireille Enos submitted a strong two-hander of her own. In her episode, "Missing," the murder investigation around which the show revolves takes a back seat when her character must search for her missing son. The episode is dominated by her and her partner (Joel Kinnaman), and though her performance is largely subdued, she has a very emotional moment near the episode's end when she breaks down in tears at a crime scene while thinking her son has been killed.

Sizing up the other candidates in this category, it would be foolish to disregard Kathy Bates. The Oscar-winning actress is a widely respected leader in the acting community, and despite nine total Emmy nominations, she's never won TV's top prize. More important, she plays a lawyer on a David E. Kelley series, "Harry's Law," and Kelley has TV's best track record when it comes to winning awards for his actors. However, her episode submission lacks the kind of stirring speechifying that won James Spader three Emmys for "The Practice" and "Boston Legal." In "Innocent Man," her character, lawyer Harriet Korn, argues for the parole of a wrongly convicted inmate.

Connie Britton is nominated for the second time for her role on "Friday Night Lights." She submitted the series finale, "Always," in which she urges her husband (Kyle Chandler) to move the family to Philadelphia for the sake of her career, and though the episode is heartwarming and sentimental, it's not an especially strong performance showcase for the actress, who has to share the screen with several other concluding story lines.

Mariska Hargitay is nominated for the eighth time for "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," which was at least one nomination too many based on the groans of many Emmy pundits watching the nomination announcement in July. She submitted the episode "Rescue," in which Det. Benson (Hargitay) searches for a drug-addicted mother (Maria Bello) whose child Benson has been caring for. Hargitay won this category back in 2006, but, at this point, she might need an extraordinary episode submission to overcome general apathy over "SVU" these days, and "Rescue" is not such an episode.

According to the racetrack odds issued by Gold Derby, Margulies leads 2/5, followed by Moss at 9/2 and Bates at 20/1. Enos reaps only 33/1 and Britton and Hargitay both are longshots at 100/1. The odds are based upon three sets of predictions made by experts (journos from the Associated Press, Reuters, Entertainment Weekly, etc.) plus the site's editors and regular users.


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— Tom O'Neil

Left photo:Juliana Margulies in "The Good Wife." Photo credit: CBS.

Right photo: Elisabeth Moss in "Mad Men." Photo credit: AMC.