FX has renewed The Americans for a fourth season of 13 episodes, it announced today. The beautiful, audacious series about Soviet spies in early 1980s Washington, DC, has four episodes remaining in its third season and is better than ever.
The renewal isn't exactly a surprise — at the January Television Critics Association winter press tour, FX president John Landgraf said he figured the show would run for five seasons on the network. But the series' ratings have struggled in the third season, and they were already low to begin with. A handful of episodes have fallen short of the 1 million viewers mark, when only those who watch the show the night it airs are counted. (FX measures ratings by those who watch within the first three days, a metric in which the show performs slightly better.)
The Americans also has an exclusive streaming deal with Amazon Prime, which surely kicks money into the show's coffers. That sort of thing isn't ideal in terms of building buzz — since it theoretically turns some portion of potential "current viewers" into "future viewers" — but many struggling shows have found such deals to be financial boons. Plus it means that in a few years when everybody is finally getting caught up on the show, Amazon will be the exclusive home for that, outside of purchasing DVDs.
Notably, the renewal press release only mentions ratings to say that they're not that far off from season two, rather than trying to spin the numbers as a net positive. Instead, it focuses on the considerable critical acclaim the show has received for its third season. It's the highest-rated TV show on Metacritic, for instance.
And the press release includes several glowing quotes from critics, including my glowing praise for the series, which I'll quote again:
The best show on television, by a fair amount – and this is a great era for the medium, with terrific series bursting out all over…. [The Americans is] one of the most deeply emotional shows on television, but it hides those beats within the chilly heart of the spy thriller, where characters must always be on guard, and plots twist and turn with every new revelation.
For more, read my earlier thoughts on the series.