Emmys: 'The Americans' and 'Mr. Robot' Emerge as Formidable Fresh Faces

Eric Liebowitz/FX/Sarah Shatz/USA Network
'The Americans' (left), 'Mr. Robot'

While 'Game of Thrones' and 'The People v. O.J. Simpson' dominate the numbers, it's the drama races' new players that mark 2016's biggest departure.

Don't let the continued reign of Game of Thrones (and HBO in general) fool you. There is plenty of new blood in 2016's crop of Emmy nominees, for series both fresh and long-ignored by the TV Academy.

Though their combined 11 mentions don't even account for half the total of Game of Thrones (23 this year), USA's Mr. Robot and FX's The Americans mark the most significant additions to the race. Breaking through into the top drama field, the night's most-prized category, is no easy feat. (The two fill vacancies left by a departed Mad Men and an ostensible snub for Netflix's Orange Is the New Black — essentially absent from this year's nominations, despite several years of heat.) For Mr. Robot, it makes good on almost a year of critical fervor and USA's off-brand prestige push. For The Americans, it's nothing short of a shocker.

It is so very rare for a show to break through in the Emmys so late in its run. With the exception of final-season tips of the hat (see Kyle Chandler's 2011 Friday Night Lights nomination and win), a TV series typically has one or two years to make a showing with voters before being lost in the snub bin forever. Most assumed one of those two scenarios would be the case for The Americans. Now in its fourth season, and recently renewed through a sixth and final run, its absence from Emmy's big categories has been a point of contention for critics and FX brass. Most people in the TV sphere, whether or not they're among the show's very modest viewership, would admit that The Americans' annual snubs were deserved. And few likely expected the surge of goodwill that Thursday's nominations brought — a series mention and spots for stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys.

The rest of the drama pack is not quite as exciting. 2015 winner Game of Thrones is again represented — as are past nominees Better Call Saul, Downton Abbey, Homeland and House of Cards.

Turnover in the comedy pact is comparable to drama, if slightly less exciting. The vacancies left by Louie and Parks and Recreation, neither of which were eligible this year, are filled by Netflix's Master of None and ABC's Black-ish. The latter, up for its sophomore season, saw a much-improved showing in its second year of eligibility. Actress Tracee Ellis Ross earned a mention alongside the comedy series nom and a repeat appearance for Anthony Anderson. Elsewhere in comedy acting, Ellie Kemper earned a nomination for the second season of Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt after being ignored last year.

If one category dominated the pre-nominations conversation this year, it was limited series. The semi-refreshable race, which has seen an influx of eligible projects as TV's affections have turned from miniseries to anthology fare, was more crowded than ever going into Thursday's announcement. As expected, Ryan Murphy's cultural phenomenon, The People v. O.J. Simpson, dominated with 22 nominations. That included expected mentions for actors Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance, Sterling K. Brown, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Schwimmer and John Travolta. (Anyone missing?) FX neighbor Fargo was not far behind. With 18 mentions, it's the third-most-nominated project this year.

In the main limited race, People v. O.J. Simpson and Fargo are joined by A&E's Roots, AMC's The Night Manager and ABC's American Crime. That trio will have an uphill climb to September's awards, however, given the storm around the other two.

So is there anything different in the special sauce that led to HBO's 94 nominations? (That number, by the way, is down significantly from last year's 126 mentions.) Well, it's again a lot of Game of Thrones, Veep and Silicon Valley — as well as telepic All The Way. What's perhaps most interesting is the composition of Game of Thrones' nominations. For the first time, Academy voters really embraced a lot of its actors. Usual player Peter Dinklage was joined by Kit Harrington, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Maisie Williams and Max von Sydow.

The volume of familiar faces, on top of the perennial technical kudos, should go a long way in helping Game of Thrones defend its drama crown.

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