Friday, May 31, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Americans, season 1 (2013) ****

TV-MA, 13 47-min. episodes
Creator: Joe Weisberg

Directors: Gavin O’Connor, Adam Arkin, Thomas Schlamme, Jean de Seconzac, Holly Dale, Daniel Sackheim, Alex Chapple, Bill Johnson, Jim McKay, Nicole Kassell, John Dahl

Writers: Joe Weisberg, Joel Fields, Melissa James Gibson, Sneha Koorse, Joshua Brand, Bradford Winters

Starring: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sellati, Richard Thomas, Annet Mahendru, Susan Misner, Alison Wright, Margo Martindale, Maximiliano Hernández, Lev Gorn, Daniel Flaherty, Peter von Berg, Vitaly Benko, Derek Luke, Cotter Smith, Tim Hooper, Anthony Arkin

A few weeks ago I claimed that “Elementary” might be the best new drama on network television. It isn’t even close to as good as “The Americans”. The new FX series brings us back to the final days of the Cold War, when both sides were beginning to get desperate. The Americans and the Russians had been at it so long that each country had sleeper agents well embedded into the other’s bedrock. The genius of this series is that instead of showing us American spies, its protagonists are Russian agents posing as an average American family.

So much of the success of this premise lies within the two leads, who somehow get us rooting for the “bad guys” more often then our own. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are dynamic as the Russian agents, who are not just dealing with the problems of completing missions and avoiding the CIA, they must also deal with relationship issues on a level like no other most of us can imagine. They’re spouses, but it’s only an act for Mother Russia. They’re also parents, and that can’t be faked. Plus you can’t really fake being lovers for as long as they have without stepping into real relationship feelings.

The writers have also wonderfully entrenched these issues in the period of the early 80s. The period sets and clothing, even the soundtrack, are all carefully chosen to reflect both the time period and the atmosphere of the Cold War. They’ve accurately captured that strange sensation of security and paranoia that permeated the era. Even issues that didn’t have to do with spy culture, like the breakdown of the nuclear family, are bubbling through every episode. How interesting it is that words like ‘nuclear’ are so associated with all aspects of American life at a time when the nuclear threat was everyone’s greatest fear.

The examination of the Cold War spy game as seen in “The Americans” is one of the most elaborate to have been put to film. For some, it takes a little time to get into the grove of this show. For me, the fascination was instantaneous. The show is so thorough in its dissection of the psychology that fueled and shaped the chess game played between the American and Russian governments; it leaves no life in it without scars. My anticipation of future seasons of this series is unlike any other. It’s not like awaiting to see to what levels of evil Walter White will stoop to keep his grip on everything. It’s more like a mounting terror for our humanity as a whole, on top of being an absolutely fascinating history lesson.

No comments: