By Jill Serjeant
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Don Draper's blissful smile closed the series finale of "Mad Men" in May, and on Sunday actor Jon Hamm will likely find some redemption of his own.
Hamm, a struggling actor who became an unlikely sex symbol, has never won an Emmy for his performance as the show's conflicted, mysterious advertising genius.
Sunday's Primetime Emmy Awards mark his last chance to take home the coveted honor and this time Hamm is the overwhelming favorite, TV pundits say.
"It would be like a crime if Jon Hamm didn't win at this point," said the Los Angeles Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic Mary McNamara. "To divorce the success of 'Mad Men' from Hamm's performance is absurd."
Hamm, 44, had to audition seven times for the Don Draper role in the 1960s era show that has won the best drama series Emmy four times.
He has been Emmy-nominated, and lost, seven times since 2008, prompting the launch in August of a #Hammpaign Twitter campaign as members of the Television Academy cast their ballots.
Hamm's Draper quickly became the talk of "Mad Men" but his Emmy chances in the past may have been hampered by a deceptively laid-back performance that embodied the slow-burning feel of the AMC series.
"Don Draper is not a showy role, because 'Mad Men' is not a showy show. He is not killing anyone, there are no scenery-chewing performances that stand out," said McNamara.
With his numerous infidelities, large ego and many secrets, Draper also was difficult to love, said Debra Birnbaum, executive editor of television at Variety.
"Draper is a tough character -- a womanizer, an alcoholic. It was very hard to say 'I like this guy,'" Birnbaum said.
Hamm faced fierce Emmy competition for years with "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston's drug dealing Walter White but Cranston is not nominated this time given the end of his show in 2013.
Tom O'Neil, founder of awards tracker Gold Derby, said Hamm is the front-runner in the best actor category this year.
"He has sentiment on his side, but he also has the goods. He delivered an acting powerhouse," said O'Neil.
A win on Sunday couldn't come at a better time for Hamm, who spent time in rehab earlier this year to deal with alcohol problems and split with his girlfriend of 18 years, actress Jennifer Westfeldt.
Birnbaum said the final shots of a beaming Draper having found his bliss in a California hippie colony left an indelible image as "Mad Men" closed.
"The series ended on a happy note, and hopefully it will end on a happy note for Jon Hamm," she said.
(Reporting By Jill Serjeant; Editing by Andrea Ricci)