FX's The Americans has been routinely called one of the best shows on television — not like one of the 20 best, but one of THE best — by television critics and knowledgable fans since its debut in early 2013. In fact, looking at last year's annual critics poll conducted by Hitfix, which surveys well-known television critics from around the country to shoot for a definitive Best Of list through aggregation, The Americans landed in the second spot behind Fargo, which had the noted advantage of wrapping up right as voting took place while The Americans was nearly 10 months old at that time.
But television's biggest critics — The Emmys, and to a lesser extent The Golden Globes — have practically ignored The Americans. The other shows in the top six of Hitfix's poll all have major Emmy noms in their respective categories. But The Americans--deemed best drama by the Critics Choice Awards, winner of a prestigious Peabody Award, and one of the best shows of the year by the American Film Institute each season it's been on the air-- has yet to even garner a nomination for Best Drama by the Emmys or nominations for its outstanding cast, aside from guest star and awards mainstay Margo Martindale, who has been nominated three times. That tells us that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences at least knows The Americans exists, making its goose egg in the Best Drama category even more startling. (The series was nominated for writing in 2015 and for main title design in 2013.)
Call this a bold prediction or just another exhausted claim because such a blatant injustice has to be rectified soon, but The Americans will receive its first Best Drama Emmy nomination in 2016. If not, then the Emmys should just shut themselves down. Come on, Emmys, we've already been through this with The Wire. Don't mess this one up.
Coming off its best season yet — Season 4 concluded on Wednesday — The Americans proved that it's only getting better. Through its run, the series has balanced the tricky high-wire act of working as both a spy drama about Russian sleeper agents posing as real Americans during the height of the Cold War in the 1980s and a family drama accentuated by the unusual and dangerous professions of Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell). The spy stuff may be the entry point to The Americans, but it's the family side of things that makes the series truly great, and at no time was it greater than in Season 4.
Each season has focused on a different part of the family unit rather than superspy plot of the season, putting the tension exactly where it needed to be to bring some relatability to its story. Season 1 was mainly about Philip and Elizabeth's marriage, and the strains that the spy lifestyle — Elizabeth's professional infidelity and Philip's lingering doubts about who the bad guys were — put on it. Season 2 widened out to look at the family as a whole, and the inherent dangers that come with pretending to be a family by day while also snapping the necks of defectors at night. Season 3 set its sights on the children, most notably the eldest barely-a-teen daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) as she learned the truth about what her parents did for a living, and therefore what may become of her future. Season 4 dove deeper into the children (which was fine by me because it's so good and Taylor is a treasure), focusing on Paige's recruitment into the KGB (!!!) while also showing her doing normal teenage girl things like making out with the nextdoor neighbor and trying to be her own person while also respecting her parents' authority.
The Americans' ability to somehow make the Jennings' extraordinary lives incredibly relatable by anchoring the main drama through the lens of the family has been no small feat, and the exact type of thing that a stodgy group like the Academy should be able to recognize for its greatness. Sure, maybe you never fatally stabbed a hobo in the neck in front of your daughter like Elizabeth did with Paige, but your daughter has seen your ugly, secret side more than once, and that changed the dynamic between the two of you somehow. You don't have to be a spy to realize that The Americans captures the 1980s American family better than most.
The Jennings' family dynamic also wouldn't be as effective if it weren't for the stellar performances. Rhys and Russell are long overdue for leading acting nods, and Taylor has made a big case for some trophies by tackling Paige's emergence with a combination of Paige's innocence and post-pubescent assertiveness that comes with all teens. But this should be the year that Alison Wright gets recognized for her work as FBI secretary Martha, the hapless punching bag used by Philip as an ear inside the FBI.
Everywhere you look you can hand The Americans an Emmy: the direction, the writing, the acting, the series as a whole. And if the Emmys don't get that after what was clearly the series best season that showcased all of those categories, then they'll never get it. Give The Americans all the Emmys.