Each Wednesday either my wife or I share what we are watching (either together or separately) in terms of movies and TV each week in a feature called “What We’re Watching Wednesday.” This week, in the spirit of the holiday we’re celebrating here in America, she gives her (spoiler-free) review of the show The Americans, which recently just ended after six seasons.
It happens to me with books. I pick something up quite by accident and casually begin reading, and end up clutching the book in a fevered dream every chance I get until it is over, when I am left with that curious emptiness once the story is fully told.
The Americans was just such a TV series for me. Recommended by a friend (Michelle of the blog That’s What She Read) quickly abandoned by my husband as “too complicated to invest in,” I continued on alone, watching most episodes during downtime in the wee hours of the morning at work. I argued with it, rolled my eyes a few times, and then the questions began mounting that I decided I needed answers to. In short, I was hooked.
The show, in case you haven’t heard of it, concerns Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, a couple with two children living in Falls Church, Virginia, proprietors of a travel agency. Their house is nice (though I earnestly prayed that as the seasons wore on they would get rid of that awful wallpaper in the kitchen), their kids are occasionally annoying, and oh…they are Russian spies.
I credit Keri Russell for pulling me in. She portrays Elizabeth with such unapologetic brutality that you watch her to see whose ass she is going to kick next. And at the same time you realize she is the Alpha in this situation, like Tony Soprano or Vic Mackey in The Shield, you root for her, only occasionally swatting away the pesky reminders that these characters are supposed to be enemies. Is it close to reality? According to my own research, spying is a lot more boring than one might conclude, watching this show, and frequently less successful. This fascinating article details the experiences and exploits of a real spy during the same time period.
Elizabeth’s husband Philip, played by Matthew Rhys, is the conscience of the pair…and his struggles with some of the things he has to do raise the most interesting questions. Could a couple who lives seamlessly embedded in American culture and raise children here remain true to their mission without wavering for all that time? Elizabeth acknowledges at one point that things are “easier here, not better” but it is difficult to believe, given the backstory they have for her, that it isn’t both. The show may not be strictly historically accurate, but as a play of drama, loyalty and moral dilemmas, it is excellent.