On August 8, “The Americans” won Best Drama Series at the TCA Awards, where it was also nominated for Individual Achievement in Drama (Matthew Rhys) and Program of the Year. A couple of months before that, “The Americans” also won Best Drama at the Critics’ Choice TV Awards. Our users have gotten on-board too, nominating the FX drama for Best Drama Series for the first time at the Gold Derby Awards.
TV academy, you’re late to the party. And not fashionably late, like when it took you a year or two to fully catch on to shows like “Seinfeld,” “The X-Files” and “Will & Grace.” After three seasons of scant nominations for “The Americans,” it’s time to catch up to the rest of us.
It’s starting to get conspicuous. Every single Critics’ Choice winner for Best Drama had won the corresponding Emmy – until now. And while the TCA Awards don’t always line up with the TV academy’s pick, “The Americans” is the first TCA winner in that category since “Boomtown” in 2003 to have never been nominated for the top Emmy.
When “The Americans” was first snubbed in that race a few years ago, many Emmy watchers thought: “Oh, well, it must be because the race is too crowded. If only there was room for more nominees, it might get in.” But this year one prestige drama fell out (“Breaking Bad”) and another wasn’t eligible (“True Detective”) and the TV academy expanded the category to include seven nominees instead of six. And “The Americans” got skunked again.
So what gives? “The Americans” is a high-gloss, prestige period drama, like Emmy darling “Mad Men,” and it’s a thriller with serious political import, like past champs “24” and “Homeland.” Part of me wonders if “The Americans” has suffered from comparisons to “Homeland,” which premiered a year earlier and may appeal to some of the same voters, but that has never been a problem before. In 2014, the Emmys nominated two gritty crime dramas (“Breaking Bad” and “True Detective“), and in years past, they never had any qualms about nominating multiple legal shows or medical shows in the same year.
And even if voters are comparing them, they had an opportunity to embrace “The Americans” last year when critics and audiences soured on “Homeland.” This year, “Homeland” made a comeback, but “The Americans” is still persona non grata.
One feasible explanation may be the daring perspective of its focus. Face it: This program encourages viewers to root for spies plotting against the U.S. and the fate of the Free World. That makes for compelling TV drama, yes, but it may make some Hollywooders reluctant to honor it with one of the industry’s most prestigious awards.
Or maybe “The Americans” has an FX problem. In 2008, the network’s “Damages” became the first basic cable series ever nominated for Best Drama at the Emmys (along with AMC’s “Mad Men” the same year). It earned another nomination in 2009, but since then, no FX show has ever contended, despite abundant acclaim for shows like “Justified” and “Sons of Anarchy.” That’s a baffling blind spot considering that FX has no trouble securing major nominations and wins for its comedy “Louie” or for its anthologies “American Horror Story” and “Fargo.”
This year, “The Americans” did manage to break into one new category: Best Drama Writing for the episode “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep,” featuring Lois Smith as an unwitting witness to a secret KGB operation, which forces Soviet spy Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) to execute her.
That writing nomination is significant. If “The Americans” continues to be ignored by the TV academy in other top categories, it will join an elite list of shows that were embraced by the Emmy writers branch but snubbed almost everywhere else, including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The Wire” and “Battlestar Galactica.” That’s good company to be in, but makes Emmy voters look like they’re asleep at the wheel.
But if winning major accolades from Critics’ Choice and the TCA doesn’t wake them up, I’m not sure what will.
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Photo: Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell in “The Americans.” Credit: Patrick Harbon/FX