The Emmy nomination season is drawing to a close, which means it's time for front-runners such as Jane Lynch ("Glee"), Glenn Close ("Damages") and John Lithgow ("Dexter") to start practicing their "shocked" reactions to making the cut.
All are worthy contenders, but let's not forget the battery of performers who would genuinely be surprised to get a nod — and genuinely deserve one.
Here are 10 underdogs who turned in exemplary work during the 2009-10 season:
* Mike O'Malley. As Burt Hummel in "Glee" and Jim Kazinsky in "Parenthood." As the sensitive, slightly homophobic father of a gay son on "Glee" and a poet who pines for Lauren Graham on "Parenthood," the comedy veteran proves you don't need a laugh track to keep viewers on their toes.
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* Taylor Schilling. Veronica Callahan in "Mercy." Schilling lights up the screen with a Boston accent that's as rich as clam chowder and a no-nonsense attitude that would make Nurse Jackie beam.
* Jeremy Sisto. As Cyrus Lupo in "Law & Order." The veteran actor has traded in his movie-star good looks for a scruffy hound-dog persona that only adds to his character's mysterious and haunting back story. Why he hasn't got more attention is the show's greatest mystery.
* Adam Scott. As Henry Pollard in "Party Down." Scott plays a washed-up actor, working for a ragtag catering firm, who spends most of his shifts serving up deadpan expressions to his zany co-workers. It's a role that requires someone selfless enough to let others shine without blending into the background. Scott delivers time and again in a series that's a weekly feast of laughs.
* Lisa Edelstein. As Lisa Cuddy in "House." The primary duty for the hospital's sexy, exasperated administrator has been to serve as Dr. House's love-hate interest, but this season, the writers gave Cuddy both a baby and more depth, a combination that has brought out the best in an actress who has finally, and firmly, stepped out of Hugh Laurie's daunting shadow.
* Katie Cassidy. As Ella Simms in "Melrose Place." This 23-year-old knockout is saddled with two burdens: a sappy soap and a dad named David Cassidy. But she's developed into one of TV's most delicious vixens, going heel-to-heel and snarl-to-snarl with her prototype, Heather Locklear.
* Alan Cumming. As Eli Gold in "The Good Wife." Few actors play wily, witty wags better than this stage star, which makes him the perfect candidate to play a political consultant hellbent on getting Chris Noth out of the doghouse.
* Danny Pudi. As Abed Nadir in "Community." This sitcom is chockful of memorable comics — who doesn't crack up every time Ken Jeung speedwalks into a scene? —but Pudi stands out as a pop-culture nut who can recite every line of "Gilligan's Island" but can't look a coed in the eye.
* James Badge Dale. As Robert Leckie in "The Pacific." Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg like to cast their epic miniseries with little-known actors, and Dale certainly fits the bill. Not for long. The expressions on his deep-thinking soldier's face are as memorable and heartbreaking as the multimillion-dollar battles.
* Atticus Shaffer. As Brick in "The Middle." ABC's comedy lineup has plenty to cheer about, but I suspect Wednesday's leadoff will get ignored by the hipper Emmy voters. Too bad, because 11-year-old Atticus is the night's most consistent treat, a nimble actor who spins an awkward posture and an eerie inner voice into comedy gold.