WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: Just when you think FX’s Cold War spy drama can’t get any more tense, any less simple or any more beautifully acted… those sneaky Russians find a way. Season 4 of the Keri Russell-and-Matthew Rhys-fronted series found both Elizabeth and Phillip having to break bonds that shouldn’t matter — her with a mark who’d inadvertently become a friend; him with poor, sweet, duped Martha — and not knowing exactly how to handle themselves or their marriage in the wake of the trauma. Add in Paige’s turmoil about the Pastor Tim stuff, and good glasnost: How has this show not nabbed a Best Drama Emmy nod yet?!
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: In its penultimate season, A&E’s Psycho prequel was able to cut out the filler subplots it had relied on to, er, kill time before Norman went “a little mad.” As a result, the series’ focus narrowed, leaving us to marvel on a weekly basis at the stunning performances given by Freddie Highmore (who kept Norman as sympathetic as scary), Nestor Carbonell (whose grief as Romero haunts us to this day) and especially Vera Farmiga (who hit the “Mother” lode as Norma came closer to real happiness than she — and certainly we — thought she ever could). Plus, the series was brave enough to kill off its leading lady. Yes, Farmiga will still appear next season. But still… ! To not recognize the show for such ballsiness would be truly insane!
GAME OF THRONES
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: You want breathtaking big moments, like Daenerys sweeping in on a dragon and rallying her people, or Hodor saving Bran by sacrificing himself to a torrent of white walkers? Done. You want heartbreaking small moments, like Jon and Sansa’s reunion at The Wall or Cersei realizing she’s being kept from her own daughter’s funeral? You want fight scenes? You want sweeping narratives? You want giants — we mean, actual giants? The HBO fantasy series offers it all up weekly, which is why it’d be a “Shame!” if Thrones didn’t follow up its 2015 Best Drama win with another nomination.
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: Since Season 1 of the HBO drama used up all of its source material — co-creator Tom Perrotta’s novel — no one would have been shocked if Season 2 had been lacking. Instead, we were surprised pleasantly to discover that the series was just as good — maybe even better — working without a net. Though it kept its core cast (including the dynamic duo of Justin Theroux and Carrie Coon), it moved to a new setting (Miracle, Tex., in place of Mapleton, N.Y.), introduced a new family (the Murphys, led by force of nature Regina King as Erika), scaled new heights of “WTF am I seeing?!?” surrealism (“International Assassin”) and, most importantly, left us psyched to see what twisted path it follows in its third and final season.
MARVEL’S JESSICA JONES
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: Part superhero thriller, part gritty gumshoe tale, part psychological profile of a traumatized young woman’s fight to get back her mojo, Marvel’s Jessica Jones proved a tour de force for star Krysten Ritter, explored the enduring bonds of female friendship and gave us an instantly iconic TV villain in David Tennant’s terrifying Kilgrave. As Jessica fought to bring down a sociopath who used his mind-control powers in truly twisted ways — and fell hard for hunky Luke Cage in the process — the strength of our binge verged on superhuman. If Emmy can’t put aside its disdain for genre shows and reward Netflix’s enthralling yarn, perhaps we should hire Ritter’s titular badass to pay a visit and “gently” change their minds?
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: USA Network, the home of “blue sky” shows, took a sharp turn into grey and overcast territory with this unexpectedly — yet highly — compelling tale of an elite hacker and the enigmatic father figure who steers him toward a noble, dangerous cause. Engaging turns by Rami Malek (as soulful, conflicted Elliot), Christian Slater, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday and Martin Wallstrom (as Tyrell) were punctuated by distinct directing that toggled between extreme, uncomfortable close-ups and off-center framing that tucked talking heads into far corners of the screen. Mr. Robot broke many rules of conventional TV, and won big because of it.
WHY IT DESERVES A NOD: We would’ve included Showtime’s stunningly filmed turn-of-the-century monster mash on this list even if its third season was doing nothing more than delivering our regular fix of Eva Green performing creator John Logan’s sublimely poetic dialogue (which, thankfully, it is). But the series has also thrilled us with its transformation of Billie Piper’s rageful Lily into an anti-heroine who’s as frightening as she is compelling, its revelation of the forgotten friendship between Vanessa and the Creature, and its introduction of Christian Camargo as a Dracula who, miraculously, feels at once like Bram Stoker’s classic character and a true original. Add to the mix Patti LuPone in her second role (or the reincarnation of her first?), and you’ll understand why, on Sundays, we’re always howling at the moon.