Watch This Show: ‘The Americans’
Starring: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich
I was young in the 80s. Born in ’82, I only have the faintest recollections of the Cold War, of the Soviet evil, and the paranoia of the nuclear arms race. I’m not sure it really made a huge impact down here in Australia. Back in those days the world was far less global and news took a much greater time to spread around the world. There was no Internet, no mobile phones, no global broadcast news networks. This has left me fascinated by the spies of the era; dead drops and illicit recording devices; dummy cars, disguises and analogue spycraft.
I know, I know. Spies these days still use all this technology, but as with a series like “Homeland”, it’s so much more like technology. It’s the technology we’re familiar with, the technology we project upon our governments five, or ten years into the future. Things like PRISM and Boundless Informant, like the Obama Administration’s drone war, make spycraft so much easier now – from a storytelling perspective – than it was back in the days of tape decks and paper dossiers.
The Americans is set during this golden age of spy versus spy, and is a glorious reconstruction of 80s paranoia with a dash of the ingenious machinations of contemporary shows like “Homeland” and “Burn Notice”. It takes the concept of the Illegals Program and makes it the centre of a character drama in which the enemies of Western life are protagonists we can truly root for.
Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, travel agents living the American dream; two great kids, a solid life, a happy home. They’re all-American, down-to-earth and dependable neighbours. Except they’re really none of those things.
Elizabeth and Phillip don’t exist and aren’t really husband and wife. Instead they are KGB agents, operatives of Directorate S (in charge of the Illegals Program, an operation by the Russian government you can read more about here) – whose lives are a lie. They live to serve the Soviet cause and do so under the cover of their all-American life. Spying on government officials, turning those they can and executing those they need to.
Their lives and jobs are made more complicated by the neighbourhood arrival of Stan (Emmerich), an FBI agent who just happens to be investigating the alleged infiltration of the US by sleeper-agents posing as American families. There is an intense cat-and-mouse game between these two parties, as the FBI and the KGB try to out manoeuvre one another. They recruit new assets and try desperately to maintain their position over the other – as precarious as those positions may be.
At the heart of the series, hiding beneath the veneer of spies and espionage, is the story of a family trying to keep their shit together under trying circumstances; Elizabeth and Phillip are married only in their cover and their occasionally wavering ideologies and commitment make for some tense situations. It’s engrossing watching this family try to keep itself from falling apart, all the while keeping their enemy government happy, doing their increasingly dangerous jobs, and trying to ensure the safety of their children – two young Americans who know nothing about their parents former lives or secret dealings.
The Americans is a short season, thirteen episodes, and now is the time to give it a look as the second season starts up in early January. I will for one be tuning in on a weekly basis as the season finale left audiences with quite an ending. With so many pieces in play, and so many lies being layed upon one another, I look forward to seeing how far the series will take the concept.
If you aren’t already, watch this show.
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Got any new or recent series we should be watching? Tell us in the comments, tweet us at @CAricHanley or @HouseofGeekery or just shout them at us if you see us on the street.