Critic's Notebook: How the Television Academy Can Save Itself By Nominating 'The Americans'

The FX series is the best drama on television — not one of the best, the best — and the Golden Globes have given the Emmys a golden opportunity.
Courtesy of FX
'The Americans' on FX. It's time.

The Television Academy is about to have its hour of redemption.

I say this while admitting that my knee-jerk reaction is to follow that sentence with "although it may not be aware of that yet." However, last year the Emmy voters took a huge step forward in both self-awareness and action, so I'm choosing to believe that the Television Academy is keenly aware of the position it now finds itself in at long last.

When nominations are announced in July, it is, positively, the moment when the Television Academy can snatch back its importance, reputation and relevance.

There are two things needed for the Emmys to matter again, and one of them is already in the books: The Golden Globes had to implode.

Or, if you prefer, the Golden Globes had to revert back to being the Golden Globes -— ridiculous, scattershot, influence-free and pointless (other than being a fine and fun party that can be entertaining when you point a camera at it).

After a number of years where the Golden Globes actively tried to out-influence the Emmys and calculatedly attacked the weakness of the Emmy voters (rubber-stamping the past, refusing to honor many channels or series and the actors in those series and steadfastly refusing to see what was both new and excellent in the rapidly expanding industry), the Globes flat-out gave up in 2016.

It was patently a capitulation to whimsy and popularity — a haphazard blast of underdog nominees and winners that were either asinine (Lady Gaga being nominated and actually winning) or frivolous (Mozart in the Jungle winning best comedy or musical), calculated for maximum feel-good buzz. And that's exactly what the Globes should be doing — helping to save Crazy Ex-Girlfriend by giving the awesome Rachel Bloom the best actress award for comedy or musical; making damn sure Jon Hamm won for best actor for Mad Men; nominating Casual and Narcos and Outlander and Master of None's Aziz Ansari; and all the things that viewers (and even critics) could feel good about, without actually having any gravitas or sense of hard-won justice.

That's what the Emmys are for — take note, Television Academy.

The Globes opened the door for the Emmys to reclaim their place in the pantheon. Whereas no film or film actor would take a Globe over an Oscar, the delineation of importance was blurring between a Globe and an Emmy. And that's because the Globes were capitalizing on Emmy blunders.

Now the door is open. Time to step through for the Television Academy and take that next, necessary step: You need to nominate The Americans on FX for best drama.

There is no gray area here. There is no mystery. There are no secondary options. One of the nominees for best drama must be The Americans, unconditionally. Without it, opportunity is lost.

And here's why: The Americans is currently in its fourth season. It has five episodes left, starting tonight. Through its first three seasons, The Americans was clearly and without question one of the best dramas on television. It was never Emmy nominated for best drama, nor were its leads, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, for best actors. You blew that. Badly.

But it's not too late to make amends — and, in fact, it would be disastrous if you didn't. Because right now, The Americans is the best drama on television. Not one of the best. The best.

This fourth season is astounding. The nuance and tensions of previous stories and plots is reaching an end point. Superbly constructed characters are being taken by the writers and wrung out for well-earned dramatic effect. Intelligent plots are coalescing. The Americans has never been more compelling or essential; the writing and acting and pacing are unparalleled right now. If, as a series, that's not rewarded, you're not paying attention. A reminder: Paying attention and rewarding is what you do. It's your purpose. And for three consecutive seasons, Emmy voters botched that.

While it's true that last year's Emmy winner, Game of Thrones, has just started its latest season and there are innumerable other fantastic drama series in this Platinum Age of Television, right now the leader in the clubhouse is The Americans.

As I wrote when the 2015 Emmy nominations came out, "the category that most vexes Emmy voters is best drama." Mind you, that was in a very positive column about the improved steps that the Television Academy had made in the nomination process, including expanding categories to better represent both the growth and level of quality in the industry (something I called for in previous years).

Meaning, Television Academy, you're so close.

There are series (Jane the Virgin, for starters) and actors and actresses to quibble over when compiling voter snubs and oversights, but nothing on the level of blindly ignoring the best drama on television.

You can't make up for ignoring The Wire or others. The past is the past. But right now, in this moment, you can seize the opportunity to be the television awards show of record. Think about that.

To provide distance from the Golden Globes is all about continuing recent improved Emmy voter perception about worthwhile series and actors — making sure that the smallest cable channel can compete with the rising influence of Netflix and Amazon; ending the pattern of rubber-stamping past nominees and winners; pouncing on worthwhile new series instead of ignoring them for multiple seasons. In short: making sure that your voters are aware of what's out there, no matter the degree of difficulty (hint: Horace and Pete — write that down!).

And yes, let me again applaud the many steps the Television Academy has already put in place to ensure this due diligence (though expanding the nominees even further, to 10 in every category, is a simple and necessary adjustment that absolutely needs to happen and actually makes the job of your voters easier).

But let's be clear about this golden opportunity, this hour of redemption that's right in front of you: If you don't nominate The Americans for best drama, all is lost.

Don't blow this.

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