If you haven’t had the pleasure or the time to sit down and watch at least one episode of The Americans, kindly give yourself an uppercut. There’s nothing worse than people who are unaware of themselves, let alone people who are unaware of Cold War politics circa 1980. Let’s get some perspective here: 30 years ago was the height of the Cold War, a battle of political attrition that saw Soviet communism pitted against Americanism (note: not liberty). Rock fought Drago in a sport where one person tries to punch the other person. Rocky won. Etc. etc. And thus our stage is set, and we are dead-dropped neatly into the lives of two deep cover KGB operatives living in Washington, D.C in 1981.
Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings are the archetype of a functioning American family, with the obvious exception that they happen to be deadly killers specially trained to cripple the United States from the inside out (so its an action series, right?). But as the narrative moves and we see them with their two American kids in their two storey American house in suburbia in their upstart husband-and-wife travel business, the overtones become painfully clear and the genius of the series burns like a migraine on a hot day. The Americans, at its core, is satire. It’s a mockery of American domestic policies not of the homeland security type, but of the welcome-to-the-neighborhood-here’s-an-apple-pie type.
And this premise as a pseud-Sopranos drama that concerns the balance of marriage with crime, gives the series a chance to develop into something far more deliciously complex that it’s almost too much cake to eat. Initially (i.e. series one) Phillip and Elizabeth (and their two children, Paige and Henry) are conduits to the hard-hitting truths that the ‘perfect life’ is impossible to achieve (KGB agent or not), and that humans will inevitably drive each other to the brink. It’s almost laughable when the series plays out and we see Elizabeth and Phillip bicker after having completed a dangerous mission, or lecture their kids on the do’s and don’ts of life after performing a spate of killings the night before.
As we are all well aware, TV, unlike movies, has elasticity that gives it the opportunity to for death and rebirth many times over the course of a series. The Americans is no exception, to the extent that if you were to put series one and two side by they would be almost unrecognisable (but the transition was so convincing!). It’s a period drama, yes, but it develops in a way that holds our attention on a fixed point (the domestic issues of Philip and Elizabeth) whilst simultaneously shifting the series’ perspective. Thus, the true target of the series is the mandate of a Christianised, western world that operates under the guise of freedom. It’s communist rhetoric in American accents, and I admit that for a few brief moments throughout I was enamored. Hoodwinking the audience in this way is the purpose of the series. The glass shatters. The penny drops. We are all suckers. Shoot me.
And now to criticisms; Do we really believe that, after having lived and spawned two children together over the course of two decades, that there was no hint of romance beforehand? Well if there was, the series wouldn’t exist. And frankly, I don’t care.
I won’t say too much lest I spoil the fun. But it is definitely a series truly deserving of your attention.