No, we’re not talking about present day, actual Americans. Although we should. That’s high-quality comedy-drama content right there.
We’re talking about the show, The Americans, which airs on FX (or Netflix, whatever your platform of choice). It’s just your average, run-of-the-mill drama about family, friends, relationships…and being deep cover Soviet spies during the early 80’s in Washington D.C. with an FBI agent living next door, who is entrenched in his own domestic and professional issues colliding and mucking up the situation for the husband and wife spy team characterized by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell (the latter of whom is the sexiest choice for the role physically and narratively), who are fighting the American government from the inside for their beloved, communist Mother Russia, while trying to keep their marriage together and find love in what was twenty years ago an arranged marriage by the Kremlin to establish their cover, and doing everything they can to manage all of that while trying keep the secret from their children that their parents are actually cold-blooded murderers.
This is not your Mom and Dad’s television show of decades passed. This is their show, but way more intense and gripping so all can enjoy. I first heard about it through the now defunct Grantland Hollywood Prospectus podcast (check them out now on the Channel 33 podcast). The way co-host Andy Greenwald would write and talk about them got me interested in checking it out, and I was no disappointed. This show is without a doubt the most underrated program in production right now.
Americans has just wrapped up its third season, so there are thirty episodes to catch up on. The hour-long format offers a style reminiscent of old 70’s dramas with its grainy, dully colorized cinematography and clean cuts for all of its scenes. And its Cold War setting as an allegory to the war on terror today is intelligently used to make the show more accessible to all generations.
When, at this point, you’re probably thinking the show is an all out action show about Soviet spies, you’ve been duped by industry stereotypes. At the heart of it, the show is actually about family.
Phillip and Elizabeth, as mentioned above, are Russian, but have been trained in martial arts and have developed flawless American accents to hide next door to D.C.’s ignorant population. They’re not allowed to speak one word of Russian while in deep cover, even in the privacy of their own home. Before leaving on their sleeper spy mission from the Soviet Union, the pair (who had never met before) were sent together as a married couple who were seeking refuge in the US from the communist grip of their home country. Twenty years later, they have a daughter and son, and on the surface are a normal American family. For all intents and purposes, they are.
When we meet Elizabeth and Phillip, they’re entrenched in a really loveless marriage, where Phillip has begun to understand and invest himself in American culture, and in contrast Elizabeth is still 100% dedicated to the Russian cause and hasn’t forgotten her mission at all as a sleeper agent. At the root of the show, their relationship and how it develops is changing back and forth between seeing the same goals and agreement and being totally at odds with each other while still ensuring that their children don’t find out about their almost-nightly missions assigned from the Kremlin. Through this secrecy and, to a degree, unfaithfulness, Elizabeth and Phillip must make crucial decisions to complete their missions without getting caught and also let their kids live as-normal-as-possible lives. Despite the intentions they have as Russian spies, their children are their children, and they love them as parents should, wanting to shield them from a world of hurt and tragedy that they know all-too-well. The kids don’t even know that they’re Russian! They can’t! And because of that, the adults are always at the edge of their secrets being revealed.
The Americans is a unique show that makes life as hard as possible for its two co-leads and causes you to seize up with tension all throughout every episode, every minute. The action is breath taking and the drama is real. It’ll make you want the life they lead, and yet pity the un-ending stream of conflict all of the characters face.
Watch it and never look back.