WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: Season 3 of the FX spy drama was a thing of uncomfortable beauty, and we couldn’t take our eyes off it even as the cold, harsh political realities of the time led to morally conflicting plots like Philip having to seduce an underage girl in order to get intel on her CIA father. As Paige learned the truth about her parents and Martha discovered her husband wasn’t who he claimed to be, The Americans upped the stakes in new and thrilling ways, leaving us to wonder how it could possibly top itself next season.
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: The delicious entertainment factor of Fox’s hip-hop soap opera — and the instantly iconic, infinitely quotable performance of leading lady Taraji P. Henson — made Empire an out-of-the-gate ratings sensation. But the show’s unflinching look at homophobia, bipolar disorder and a host of other issues — through the prism of a wickedly ambitious (and sometimes just wicked) African-American family — gave the year’s most gasp-inducing thrill ride a real undercurrent of gravitas.
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: In its debut season, The CW series’ intricately plotted, unabashedly earnest and emotionally driven storytelling was a beacon of light among TV’s many comic book-based shows. (Have you ever seen a male superhero cry so much and so freely? Bravo!) Not only did The Flash present a refreshingly joyous take on the popular genre, but it also built an ensemble of memorable supporting characters (including a villain so well-developed you didn’t want to see him go) and regularly wowed us with its superhero antics. Yep, you could say Barry Allen whisked us away.
GAME OF THRONES
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: Jon Snow and the free folk’s brutal battle against the White Walkers at Hardhome. Daenerys’ dragon-ride escape from an assassination attempt. Cersei’s underhanded political scheming leading to her grim imprisonment at the hand of the Faith. Somehow, Game of Thrones‘ fifth season aimed for even bigger “Wows!” — while keeping us invested in the stories and struggles of dozens of disparate characters. You don’t need Melisandre’s flames to envision an Emmy nod for the HBO drama.
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: In its sixth and final season, FX’s underrated Western succeeded where so many of its fallen TV brethren have failed: It delivered a 13-episode swan song that was immensely satisfying, deeply poignant and, most importantly, rip-roaring fun. Buoyed by dazzling performances by Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins and Joelle Carter, Justified‘s farewell run kept us on the edge of our seats through the final seconds of its final episode — so much so that we didn’t want it to end.
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: From the beginning, the minds behind HBO’s The Leftovers insisted we wouldn’t receive any answers as to why 2 percent of the world’s population suddenly vanished. And while that could have made for a frustrating viewing experience, we found ourselves becoming less interested in the “Why?” and more interested in the “Who, what, where and when?” of the series’ first 10 episodes. Justin Theroux, Ann Dowd, Carrie Coon and Christopher Eccleston led a marvelous cast of complex characters, each of whom grappled with their losses in different and haunting ways. Thanks to its incredible performances and slow-burn storytelling, The Leftovers got us completely wrapped up in a mystery we’re not sure we want fully solved.
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: Showtime’s supernatural thriller went into its first season at a disadvantage: Not only did the period drama have to set itself apart from other horror series, but it had to reinvent familiar scary stories — like that of Dr. Frankenstein — in new and compelling ways. Fortunately, Penny Dreadful immediately stood out from the rest of the TV landscape, largely due to the stunning (and, oftentimes, bone-chilling) performances from Eva Green, Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett and a growing ensemble of mysterious, deeply flawed characters. Throughout its first season, the freshman chiller became more than just a ghost tale; it was also a fascinating study of what it means to truly wrestle with our own demons.