Although the recent Emmy announcement was largely stuffed to the brim with the nominations we’ve all learned to expect over the recent years with shows like Modern Family, House of Cards, and Veep racking up their usual nods, one FX drama that has been criminally overlooked up until now has suddenly appeared on the radar.
The Americans, the Reagan-era drama about two KGB agents living undercover in suburban Washington D.C. which wrapped up its fourth season a month ago, received five Emmy nominations this year, including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Matthew Rhys), Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Keri Russell), Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Margo Martindale), and Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series for this season’s finale “Persona Non Grata”.
Prior to this year, other than the consistent recognition of Margo Martindale, The Americans has barely been a blip on the Emmy radar, even though shows with the same flavor of politically-fueled melodrama and intimate studies of a family’s messy, yet surprisingly deep relationship dynamic such as House of Cards and The Good Wife have been lauded from their inception. Both of these series have been Emmy darlings over the years, and although they both succeed at elevating the tensions of the delicate fabric of current affairs, they lack the added layer of complexity leading a double life brings to both personal and professional relationships.
The Americans examines the underbelly of a silent war with Russia, the art of deception, and how it affects those who dedicated their lives to fighting it. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings have sporadic and rare moments where they aren’t actively hiding something. Yet somehow, these protagonists, as Russian spies who lie all day every day, manage to evoke sympathy and encouragement from viewers. I find myself cheering, gasping, and crossing my fingers that they won’t be caught on a weekly basis, sometimes even feeling guilty for wanting them to pull one over on my own country. It takes some seriously stellar writing and acting to create both that kind of emotion and that kind of sense, particularly when history has already been written. We know, ultimately, how the story ends.
Speaking of history, although Philip and Elizabeth Jennings have far more nightly crusades than the average agent, concept for the show was inspired by the arrest of Russian spies in 2010 who had been living in American for several years, and many of the operations that unfold in the series are based on true events. The series creator Joe Weisberg goes further to achieve its goal of realistic historical interpretation by weaving actual new footage into milestone episodes, creating the sense that these characters were really present during these events. Coverage of the attempted assassination of President Reagan was used throughout an episode in season one, where reactions from both the FBI and the KGB are explored.
Although the plot of The Americans revolves around the Cold War, complete with some of the most shocking violence I’ve ever witnessed on cable television (less visceral but also way less predictable than Game of Thrones), the series also dives headfirst into one of the most multi-layered family centered story lines airing right now. Philip and Elizabeth aren’t just spies, they’re parents, and parenting is hard even when you’re not sneaking around on covert operations and hiding your wigs and weapons in the basement with the laundry. The show takes on the difficulties of adolescence, following a teenage girl’s struggle to find herself, looking to religion before ultimately realizing her own identity is far more complicated than she could have imagined. Outstanding Drama Series indeed.
Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are both in unique positions in their runs and Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. They’re both pretending to be people who are pretending to be people, who are also pretending to be other people. Phew. Rhys and Russell both deserved Emmy nods long before the conclusion of season four, playing upwards of often 4-5 different “characters” per episode. The only actor I can think of who stretches her acting abilities in that many directions is Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black. But even in that series, the actress plays roughly the same set of characters consistently. We see several new Elizabeths and Philips every episode.
This series has never faltered during a season, not once, and with season four being the most successful and arguably the best season yet, you can rest assured that a show with a premiere featuring the most enthralling opening sequence I’ve ever seen on television will only continue to pick up more steam. So jump on The Americans train now if you’re not already a happy passenger, because it doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon. And if anyone out there reading this has a vote, please give The Americans all of the Emmys.
Featured Image: FX