The Anatomy of an Emmy Snub: ‘The Americans’

Image Courtesy of Patrick Harbon/FX

Every year it’s like clockwork. The Emmy nominations are announced, and immediately the grumbling begins about what shows and stars got snubbed.

There are so many complaints it must be like white noise to Emmy voters. But the longer something is ignored, the louder the fuss, and we’ve reached a fever pitch when it comes to FX’s Cold War drama “The Americans.”

The show, about a pair of Russian spies living undercover as a suburban couple with kids in Reagan-era America, happens to be my favorite among the eligible series in any category this year. But more than that, it won best drama prizes from both the Television Critics Assn. Awards and the Critics Choice TV Awards, an AFI Award and a Peabody. It’s not just good, it’s the very definition of an outstanding drama series. Isn’t there supposed to be an Emmy category for that?

And yet over three seasons, “The Americans” has racked up a “whopping” five Emmy nominations. Until this year, when it landed a richly deserved writing nom for the episode “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?,” those noms were relegated to two categories: guest actress (the wonderful Margo Martindale has been nominated every year for an increasingly minor recurring role) and main title theme music.

But how much should we blame Emmy voters for this inexplicable blind spot?

History tells us they make mistakes at least as often as they get things right. “The Shield” was never up for drama series despite leading man Michael Chiklis’ win. It took four years for Emmy to get hip to “Friday Night Lights,” and it had to end before landing a series nom. Superior genre entries “Battlestar Galactica” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” never made it past writing (and, in the case of “Battlestar,” directing) noms. And the same goes for a show pretty much everyone considers one of the best of all-time: “The Wire.”

Add to that spotty track record the fact that today’s TV landscape is richer, more diverse and just plain more crowded than ever before.

Personally, I don’t understand a best drama category that doesn’t make room for CBS’ “The Good Wife” and Cinemax’s “The Knick.” But those shows at least received a handful of noms in other categories.

SundanceTV’s “Rectify,” which just wrapped its third season and was Emmy eligible for its second, has quietly become one of the best dramas around — so quietly it has yet to pick up a single Emmy nom. Not one.

It’s not alone. Among the prestige dramas totally snubbed by voters this year: FX’s “Justified,” HBO’s “The Leftovers,” Pivot’s “Fortitude,” A&E’s “Bates Motel,” Showtime’s “The Affair,” Netflix’s “The Fall” and BBC America’s “Broadchurch.” Not a single nomination among them in any category (though “Justified” earned some token noms and two wins — Emmy voters love Margo Martindale — in the past).

It would be silly to say all of these shows deserved major nominations this year, but can you imagine series with those pedigrees landing zero noms 10 or even five years ago? Inconceivable.

And so even though the lack of recognition for “The Americans” — and its transformative stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, exceptional team of directors, riveting “Electric Sheep” guest star Lois Smith, and best-in-class wig work — seems particularly egregious, it’s probably just a symptom of a larger issue.

As TV continues to boom, the Emmy snubs will keep rolling in. It’s a tough job to honor the best of the smallscreen, and while it would be nice to see voters cast a wider net (or maybe just binge “The Americans”) it’s more important that nets keep taking the big swings that put these shows on the air to begin with.

That way, no matter what Emmy voters choose, audiences win.