Just over a year ago, prior to the 2015 Emmy nominations, I put forth a theory to showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields as to why “The Americans” kept getting snubbed at the Emmys. After all, few other shows have been heralded by critics so consistently, passionately and unanimously, but, moreover, few programs seem as conducive to awards. It’s a period piece (always a favorite among older, nostalgic voters), so it’s got lavish production design, exquisite makeup work (those wigs!) and amazing costumes. The cast is top-notch, including an established star (Keri Russell) as well as a number of breakout performers (Matthew Rhys and Holly Taylor, among many more). And the story is intricate, emotionally-rewarding and consistently thrilling.
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So three years of almost total exclusion at the Emmys demand an explanation. My best guess? TV Academy members are simply incapable of rooting for Russian spies. They lived through the Cold War, and thus live with an established fear and hatred for KGB agents (if not the former USSR, in general). So they might resent the fact a TV show is asking them to identify with the enemy, therefore shutting out “The Americans,” no matter how good, because it’s too challenging, or, to put it differently, it’s too good at its main objective: establishing empathy for everyone.
Admittedly, this is a stretch, considering the Academy has embraced other “challenging” material that might make its members uncomfortable (like old, white men in crisis with “Mad Men” or rooting for a serial killer in “Dexter”). So Weisberg and Fields’ response came as no surprise, even if part of it was welcome:
Weisberg: That’s a good new theory! […] It’s hard to find a classy answer to this question. It’s very tough. I know Matthew Rhys has answered this question by saying he just thinks he hasn’t slept with the right people. So I’m going to go with the same answer: that Matthew Rhys hasn’t slept with the right people.
Well, apparently he has now. “The Americans” earned five Emmy nominations Thursday morning, finally breaking through after three seasons of snubs. Not only did it score acting nods for its two leads, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell (their first nominations), but it broke into the Outstanding Drama Series category for the first time, as well! Margo Martindale also scored a nod, marking her fourth plus a win last year, and — thank God — the men behind it all, Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, snagged nods for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series for the finale, “Persona Non Grata.”
While the Emmys are notorious for keeping the doors shut on shows that don’t break in early, sometimes persistence wins out. “Friday Night Lights” didn’t earn much outside of casting for its first three seasons (though Berg was nominated for directing the pilot) before breaking in with dual lead acting nods for Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton in Season 4. The next year, its last, Chandler took home the trophy and “Friday Night Lights” earned its only nod for Outstanding Drama Series. Sure, that’s not exactly “enough” for the greatest television series ever made, but it’s a nice nod for a show kept on the outside looking in for far too long.
“The Americans” is now on the same path, and deservedly so. Whether it was sleeping with the wrong people or a generational bias against Russians, the bias has been shunned. The door is now open. Oh, what a glorious morning.
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