TV Time: The Americans

Last week, I wrote a post called Stuff I Love: TV Time!, in which I talked about how good TV shows can be as enjoyable for me as a good book — and as a reader, what are the elements I need in a TV show in order to really get into it.

And now it’s time to get more specific: Every so often, I think I’ll wander away from my book-related posts and focus instead on a TV show that I’m obsessing over.

Up first: The Americans, now back for its second season on FX.

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According to the FX website:

The Americans is a period drama about the complex marriage of two KGB spies posing as Americans in suburban Washington D.C. shortly after Ronald Reagan is elected President. The arranged marriage of Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell), who have two children – 14-year-old Paige (Holly Taylor) and 11-year-old Henry (Keidrich Sellati), who know nothing about their parents’ true identity – grows more passionate and genuine by the day, but is constantly tested by the escalation of the Cold War and the intimate, dangerous and darkly funny relationships they must maintain with a network of spies and informants under their control. Their neighbor, FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) has already come dangerously close to discovering their secret, but was thwarted by Nina (Annet Mahendru), his KGB mole and paramour. Torn between his wife Sandra (Susan Misner) and his deepening feelings for Nina, Stan is completely unaware that the beautiful Russian is actually a double agent, reporting on him to the KGB. Philip has been more successful handling his mole within the FBI, Martha (Alison Wright), assistant to Stan’s boss, Special Agent Gaad (Richard Thomas). Romancing Martha under the guise of one of his cover identities, an FBI bureaucrat named Clark, Philip has secured her unquestioning loyalty…by marrying her. Meanwhile, in the Jennings’ house, Paige has become increasingly suspicious that her parents are hiding something.

Why do I love The Americans?

For starters, it’s unlike anything else on TV right now. While a period drama, it doesn’t play the 1980s for laughs. Instead, it perfectly captures the Cold War paranoia of the Reagan era, and it’s fascinating to watch the spy games play out in a low-tech world, with hand-written codes, dead drops and radio transmissions… and oh, the wigs!

Philip and Elizabeth live a double life. They’re devoted KGB agents who believe in Mother Russia — but they’re also living a happy life in the suburbs with their clueless kids, enjoying their large home, the kids’ school assemblies, racquetball and the daily paper, trips to the mall and family TV nights. As the fake marriage becomes more real, there’s more and more at stake for the family, and their safety and survival is constantly on the line.

There’s an odd morality at play in Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage. The marriage itself is an assignment, albeit one that now feels real to them. At the same time, in practically every episode, we see Philip and Elizabeth using whatever means necessary, including all sorts of sexual encounters, to get what they need from their web of informants and contacts.

Okay, and the wigs! Both routinely don disguises, but Philip’s wigs became an almost obsession for fans during the show’s first season. Would they stay on? How do they stay on? How do they stay on while he’s doing THAT? Really hilarious — and addressed nicely in the first episode of the 2nd season during a scene in which there was actual wig peril. Oh my.

The Americans has all of my must-haves for TV: Well-defined, complex characters; a plot that moves forward and establishes the players, the stakes, and the risks; a setting that’s captivating  — and different from the run-of-the mill; a premise that’s unique and layered; and performances that are pitch-perfect, week after week.

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this promo for season 1:


If nothing else, try to check out the first episode of season 1, which is truly spectacular. A super-sized 90-minute episode, it hits all the right notes and perfectly establishes the tensions in the family/espionage setting. Plus, bonus points for a truly stellar soundtrack, anchored by an unforgettable usage of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”. Trust me on this one — you’ve got to see it!

Do you watch The Americans? What do you think of season 2 so far? Share your thoughts in the comments!

4 thoughts on “TV Time: The Americans

  1. I haven’t watched this, but I remember seeing promos for it and it looked really good. Tempted to see if my library has the first season on DVD, but I have SO many shows I’m already watching! If I don’t catch a show as it airs (and I don’t have cable, so that’s only an option if the network posts episodes online), it’s just so hard to catch up later.

    • I think season 1 just came out recently on DVD… and if you’re Amazon Prime member, they appear to have it now as well. I know what you mean about catching up… there are so many shows that I’d figure I’d get around to eventually, but at some point I just give up and accept that I’ve missed ’em. 🙂

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