“It’s a show about characters and intimacy in it’s heart and about spies and death on it’s skin.”
First airing in 2013, and now well into it’s third season, The Americans is one of the finest shows on television that you’re going to miss completely.
It’s pensive in the historical context which it occupies, clever in it’s incorporation of familiar spy tropes, and unique in it’s unconventional direction and narrative decisions. It’s exciting, and haunting, and sexy, and traumatizing. So, then, if that’s the case, how could you possibly miss it?
Well, for starters, there really isn’t any reason for you to watch it. Chances are, nobody knows how to describe it to you, and that’s because there is no way to really describe what The Americans is. Sure, it’s about two married Russian spies raising an oblivious American family during the Reagan administration, but read that back again. Was that even English? I might as well have told you it’s about dragons or warp drives or some shit. To say The Americans is super high concept is the understatement of the century but to say that such a status is surely to it’s own detriment seems about par for the course.
Still, even if you are able to penetrate the show’s thick conceptual membrane, there is an even odder prize to claim within: The Americans is a show that uses spying and the rhetoric of the Reagan administration not for car chases, ticking clocks on bombs, or assassination plots – but as a meditation on the institution of marriage? What?
That’s right, infidelity in this show isn’t escapism, it’s a necessity of the job of spying and a menace to the intimacy shared between our married protagonists. And adventurous spy capers involving intricate costuming and wigs almost always end with the tragic reminder that there are oblivious children at home being lied to. It’s that weight and heavy handedness which makes the show so captivating. A successful mission is never a victory but a reminder that the world of espionage and shadow is a patch of quicksand which – no matter what – will one day swallow you whole.
There are no winners or losers in the universe of The Americans – just victims.
This unique perspective grounds the show in a believable hyper-realism. Phillip and Elizabeth, our protagonists, are super spies capable of brutal hand to hand combat and reflexive driving that spend more time lying awake, emotionally shell shocked in bed, than they do sneaking or murdering.
And that’s exactly why you should watch The Americans. Because you’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a show about characters and intimacy in it’s heart and about spies and death on it’s skin. It’s biggest explosions are emotionally devastating and the ticking clocks aren’t strapped to bombs – but characters themselves.
So, detractors to the show, like The Washington Post or Variety might claim that “it’s easy to see how stale it might get in a matter of episodes” or that “The execution isn’t worth of the premise.” Some might be dumbfounded at the description of the show itself. But those are all facades. Just surface level observations which miss the shows hidden intent completely. It turns out that what lies beneath the exterior of The Americans, like spies themselves, proves to be much more fascinating.