“The Americans” ended its run on Wednesday night, May 30, after six critically acclaimed seasons. But the show has had an uphill climb at the Emmys, struggling for recognition until finally breaking through in its later seasons with top tier nominations for Best Drama Series (2016) and lead acting bids for Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (2016-2017) as KGB spies living undercover as US suburbanites. That’s a lot like the awards trajectory of “Friday Night Lights,” which finally won Best Drama Actor for Kyle Chandler for its final season. Can the same happen for Russel, Rhys, or both this year?
“Friday Night Lights” and “The Americans” don’t have very much in common on-screen, of course. “FNL” was about high school football, while “The Americans” is about Cold War espionage. But there are striking similarities in how both shows fared with the public and on the awards scene. Both were adored by critics but never blossomed into big bona fide ratings hits, so both were often on the bubble for renewal.
Awards voters were similarly reluctant to honor both shows too. In its first three years on the Emmy stage “The Americans” only picked up a handful of nominations for its main title theme music (2013), for its writing (2015) and three times for guest actress Margo Martindale, who won in 2015.
“FNL” also earned just five nominations in its first three seasons: three for casting (2007-2009), one for the short-format entertainment program “Crossing the Line,” and once for directing (2007). It prevailed for its casting in 2007.
But the fourth time was the charm for both shows. “FNL” finally earned lead-acting bids for Chandler and Connie Britton in 2010 for the show’s fourth season. “The Americans” also picked up key bids for lead actors for Russell and Rhys — and one for Best Drama Series — in 2016 for its fourth season.
“FNL” ended its run after its fifth season, when it was nominated for Best Drama Series for the first and only time. It didn’t win that prize (“Mad Men” prevailed there for the fourth year in a row), but to the surprise of many Chandler won Best Drama Actor, upsetting “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm who had submitted to Emmy judges one of his biggest acting showcases, “The Suitcase.” Chandler had entered his more subdued performance in the “FNL” series finale, “Always,” which also picked up the award for Best Drama Writing.
“The Americans” didn’t have as much luck in its fifth season in 2017, dropping out of the Best Drama Series race, and losing all four of its bids, but “The Americans” wasn’t ending that year, so it didn’t have farewell sentiment to back it up. But this year the show does have that sentiment, not to mention its unexpected connection to modern headlines thanks to the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
But what about episode submissions? Do Russell and Rhys have the goods this year? Like Chandler, they give performances that are typically more subdued than usually appeal to Emmy voters, who often prefer bold grandstanding and big speeches. However, Emmy episode submissions don’t carry as much weight as they used to since Emmy voting has changed in recent years. Instead of small blue ribbon panels judging all episodes in a category as was the case in the past, now every member of the actors branch can vote in every acting category, which decreases the likelihood that any voter will watch every episode submitted in more than a dozen acting races.
But that could be good news for Russell and Rhys. After all, “Mad Men” star Hamm finally won his overdue Emmy in 2015, the year the TV academy expanded voting for winners to the entire actors branch. So if there’s enough goodwill for an overdue contender, their subtle performance can trump a more grandiose turn.
What do you think? Will “The Americans” go out with a bang at the Emmys?
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