Gold Derby Emmy MVP: Time to salute Matthew Rhys in ‘The Americans’

For his role in the “The Americans” as a deep-cover Russian spy in 1982 D.C., Matthew Rhys was said by TVLine to give the single best performance on television last year. And in the recently-concluded second season, he was even better as “Phillip Jennings.”

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If Rhys reaps a Best Drama Actor bid, he should submit “Marital Eagle” to the Emmy judges. Alan Sepinwall of HitFix described his work in this episode as “a gut-wrenching tour de force performance” that was “phenomenal.” And he noted that Emmy voters would, “at a minimum have second thoughts about automatically voting for Matthew McConaughey or Bryan Cranston.”

Having struggled throughout the season with the life that he has chosen, this ninth episode opens with one innocent civilian too many dying at his hands. The self-loathing Phillip, who is an atheist, becomes unhinged and clashes with his daughter over her involvement in their local church. Loud performances typically have an easier path to Emmys and in this scene, Phillip yells as he rips up his daughter’s bible before he literally throws it across the room. As Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club explained, “Rhys is such an internal, quiet actor that it’s legitimately frightening to see him explode.”

As if being a murderous KGB agent who calls out Jesus is not bad enough, Phillip has a second wife, an FBI secretary, who knows him as “Clark Westerfeld.” He manipulates her to undercut the bureau. In “Martial Eagle,” he plays her a doctored tape in which her superiors calling her ugly.

That his character comes across as so damaged and sympathetic in spite of these despicable actions is a testament to Rhys’s layered take on the antihero.

Watch our video chat with Keri Russell (“The Americans”)

Can Rhys break through for this second season of “The Americans”? Let’s analyze the pros and cons of this Gold Derby Emmy MVP:

PROS

Rhys has reaped two consecutive bids for Best Drama Actor at the Critics’ Choice TV Awards and both last year and this was one of only five dramatic performers singled out for the Television Critics Assn. Awards. 

His character wears disguises to assume various identities in the episode, giving Emmy voters multiple performances for the price of one.

The actor is Welsh but the American accent that he adopts is impeccable.

CONS

Despite leading last year’s TCA Awards, his show was all but shut out of the Emmys, reaping just two Creative Arts bids.

He never earned an Emmy bid for his supporting role on “Brothers and Sisters.” 

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