WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: FX’s Cold War spy drama got quieter and went deeper in Season 5, ratcheting up the pressure on Russian spies Philip and Elizabeth to nearly unbearable levels. Defending the motherland by any means necessary began to take a serious toll on them — Matthew Rhys did stunning work as the increasingly gloomy Philip — and they said goodbye to beloved handler Gabriel, with Frank Langella getting a well-earned swan song. The Americans finally broke through in the Drama Series category last year; let’s keep that Soviet streak going, huh?
BETTER CALL SAUL
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: In its third season, AMC’s kinetically filmed, keenly observed prequel officially outgrew its Breaking Bad roots and established itself as a great drama in its own right. Sure, it was an undeniable thrill to see Gus Fring back slinging chicken again, and to ride along on Mike Ehrmantraut’s silent “fixer” missions. But Saul was just as compelling when it put the guns away to focus on Jimmy’s decades-old feud with his brother Chuck, or his ill-fated romance with straight arrow Kim Wexler, or his struggles with his own moral failings. At this rate, we’re hoping Jimmy doesn’t transform into Saul Goodman anytime soon.
THE HANDMAID’S TALE
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: That feeling of dread you get from watching Offred and the other handmaids try to survive Gilead isn’t just because the current political climate makes a soulless patriarchy seem like A Thing That Could Happen: The Hulu series’ believability lies in its suck-you-in blend of subtly skilled performances, detailed world-building and a keen sense of when to stick to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian source material, as well as when to use the novel as a jumping-off point. If the series nabs a nomination for its stellar first season, we’ll only have one reaction: Blessed be!
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: In its third and, sadly, final season, HBO’s surreal drama didn’t merely manage to maintain its impressively high standards in writing (exemplified by Nora’s heart-stomping beach-ball-at-the-baseball-game monologue), acting (with Scott Glenn at last taking a turn front and center) and directing (“The Most Powerful Man in the World…”). It managed to do so while also building to a finale that promised to make us rue the day the series… er, departed.
ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: Season 5 is almost here, but we’re hoping Emmy voters don’t forget the sprawling majesty of OITNB‘s fourth season — its strongest, most assured season yet. Throwing hot-button issues like for-profit prisons, mental illness and police brutality into a bubbling stew along with a couple dozen fascinating characters was a recipe for high comedy (Judy King’s celebrity status), profound drama (Poussey’s tragic fate) and a breathtaking cliffhanger that’s kept us on the edge of our seats for, oh, about eleven months now.
THIS IS US
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: Yes, yes, the NBC drama knows how empty our tear ducts with stunning regularity. But the real magic of This Is Us‘ freshman season lies in how quickly — via a near-perfect ensemble cast engaged in creative storytelling — the show got us to care deeply about the Pearson family’s ups and downs. The Dan Fogelman series evokes past greats like Friday Night Lights and Parenthood in its ability to convey so thoroughly (and, admittedly, sometimes painfully) the most bittersweet moments in the life of a family. Hopefully, unlike those series, this time the Emmy voters will reward the effort.
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: Because it was more than worth the price of park admission. Yes, the HBO drama’s debut season was creatively uneven and occasionally inscrutable. But it was also supremely inventive, thoroughly engrossing, impeccably acted and, for a show about robots, surprisingly heartfelt. Co-showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy should be commended for not only creating a wholly original world, but also populating it with people — and machines — we actually care about.