The Americans (2013–2018)
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The script is adult, no-nonsense storytelling built on an original premise, the Cold War. Those of us who are old enough remember this period, a period of the Russians-are-coming hysteria that was second only to the Civil Rights movement the decade before. An era very under- represented in film and ignored on the small screen, comes to life for a new generation.
Of course this era would be nothing without the music of this time and again, The Americans is flawless. "Harden my Heart" opens the series, and how appropriate. Disguised, and ready to perform sexual acts for information, we first meet the series heroine, Elizabeth Jennings whose heart is truly hardened. Fast forward to a back alley chase and we are introduced to our hero(?) Phillip to the pulsations of "Tusk" by Fleetwood Mac. "Tusk" is appropriate here too. Just think about it.
Must mention these disguises too, which are not your silly, unrealistic mission-impossible disguises. No, the disguises in The Americans are really disguises and surprisingly, with very little disguise. What makes these disguises work for the Jennings is that the Jennings can act. With each disguise is a new personality. Elizabeth does her disguise well but the master of disguise is Phillip.
Phillip, played by Matthew Rhys, is special, or should I say, Matthew Rhys is special as Phillip. Rhys takes the art of disguise to the next stage. He is authentic, nerdy and funny in disguise talking to Martha, reminding you of a young John Ritter. And then as the kick-your-ass, baddest-ass-kicking daddy of them all over a barbecue pit, Rhys is wonderfully dangerous, stellar, and I can't get enough of him.
This series only has to live up to its pilot a little bit. The series has everything: originality, sex, espionage, suspense...did I say originality? And yes, Matthew Rhys who has the role of his life, I daresay, the role he has been waiting for, is the welcomed surprise here. Hat's off to casting. Can't wait to see what they are going to do with this.
However, I think Keri Russell's presence in this series is the key to everything. Only her could have this cold outside look hiding a wounded soul that hangs on to what she believes in.
It is not only about the plot, but also the human toll the Cold War claimed in its path.
I think the series is very well rounded in terms of casting and writing. It has a rhythm that keeps the audience on edge.
This is, in my humble opinion, the best of the genre since Alfred Hitchcock gave us Topaz and The Torn Curtain. I give it a 9.
By the first episode, the emotional complications of their own arranged-in-a-KGB training camp marriage are starting to take their toll on 'Catherine' and 'Philip' with the latter showing signs of a flagging fealty to the Motherland and a deepening emotional bond with his de facto wife. Catherine, for her part, while still the mentor-pleasing star pupil of her Soviet special agent training academy maintains her stealth focus on the mission. If her heart is with the former Panther she had recruited years earlier, her body is a machine that belongs solely to the state, functioning simultaneously as a sexual weapon and a shape shifting, blow- deflecting device that can pack a school lunch. Kerri Russell, even in her '80's 'mom jeans', could serve any Bond girl her dinner in a dog dish.
Long story short: I'm just loving the s#*t out of 'The Americans', which could have just as easily been another 'Homeland' - in other words, more paranoid post 9/11 agitprop about the heroic government agents doing battle against a stealth enemy and his prayer beads. Unlike the aforementioned 'Homeland' that centers on Carrie Mathison's bug-eyed certitude of a turned 'evil-doer' in her imaginary-seeming cross hairs, 'The Americans', with the "blink and you'll miss it" sly humor so emphatically absent in the 'counterterrorism' genre it subverts, tells the story of subterfuge on American soil through the eyes of a Cold War nemesis. Where Homeland's Claire Danes channels Ann Coulter playing a Gena Rowlands 'woman-on-the- verge' protagonist you want to shoot with a horse tranquilizer, 'The Americans' - both husband and wife - dispenses with the Emmy-baiting histrionics, allowing the complexities of their characters to take shape through their interactions with each other, their children and the Americans they emulate. 'Catherine' can't seem to pronounce the A-word without revealing her contempt for her adopted homeland, while 'Philip' is at pains to conceal his love of hot dogs and a burgeoning middle-aged complacency at odds with the escalating danger of their missions. The perverse nature of their facades is encapsulated in a few second shot of the family appearing at the doorstep of their newly arrived next-door neighbors, bearing cake to welcome Mr and Mrs Beeman. The viewer gets a glimpse of the inner-turmoil behind their overly-rehearsed, "American" smiles with the knowledge that there is a near fatally wounded man bound and gagged in the trunk of the family sedan. Carrie Mathison would have pounded down their door at 3 am, brandishing a pistol and screaming about birthday cake until someone from Homeland Security dragged her back to her rubber room with a warning.
Their friendly neighbor Agent Beeman, whose backyard barbecues they attend as a family, pursues them via a beautiful Russian consulate employee he has managed to 'turn' through blackmail, murder and sex, not realizing of course, his somewhat doofus neighbor 'Philip' and his lovely wife are the chimeric KGB phantoms responsible for the growing body count among his ranks, which in time will include his own partner. In the meantime, 'Philip' has honey trapped a plain Jane clerical worker in the FBI who thinks her new beau works for the Vice- President. Non-American actor Matthew Rhys as "Phillip" disguised as "Clark" the bumbling suitor brings levity and a lovely pathos to the otherwise heart-stopping drama.
'The Americans' despite its Cold War, espionage-based story-telling and often stomach churning violence is at heart, a very human drama about the charades involved in maintaining an 'identity' (we are all implicated as impostors), while highlighting the futile, tit-for-tat end- games played by nation states all claiming a non-existent moral high ground.
Set during the Cold War when relations between the Big Two are still ebbing and flowing, we are taken on an intriguing ride on the back of an American couple: Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell). They make an everyday pair but there is something brewing from (and between) them. Their motives are ulterior, the tension palpable, the strain of a highly dangerous mission clearly burdening them. Despite two kids, Elizabeth has a singular purpose, a determination not as concrete in Phil's heart which is in a state of mental flux. He is getting weary of the masquerade but is a thorough professional, as his slick talents in hand-to-hand combat and imposture bear testimony. Not every step goes perfectly to plan, though. A tricky hurdle comes their way and as Phil and Elizabeth eradicate it, she begins to understand Phil's dilemma and choses to defend him from her superior.
Meanwhile, the FBI is hot on the trail of three people suspected of espionage, one of whom has a description. Through a cruel twist of coincidence, the Jennings become neighbors to one agent Stan (Noah Emmerich) whose sixth sense makes him doubt and investigate them, even as Phil gathers intelligence that the Feds have them on their radar. As the stakes in this fascinating game of cat-and-mouse rise, there are glimpses into who Phil and Elizabeth really are, what brought them here, and how they end up together.
It is an engrossing story, interspersed with great moments of tension, decadence, and charm (who would've thought Phil Collins and Fleetwood Mac could make such inspired choices for background score?). The writing is top-notch. Matthew and Keri are excellent casting choices, since portraying enemies as genuine people is not as easy as it looks. A very positive start from the show's makers.
Can't wait for the next episode!
The Sixth Season of "The Americans" continues to fire on all cylinders: character development, acting, suspense, photography, writing and spy craft, all are splendid.
The focus is increasingly on Philip and Elizabeth, their relationship and inner development, while the other characters recede somewhat into the background, like subsidiary planets orbiting about a double star. Under extreme pressure to prevent disaster, they commit acts that may cause many viewers actually to come to hate them. in the end, no one gets off unscathed, and everyone is simply striving to stay afloat amidst the wreckage....
Which, in a way, is the point:
On the surface, "The Americans" is one of those "mismatched buddy" shows: a young couple teamed together purely for reasons of expediency. However, it runs much deeper than that. Beyond maintaining the charade of a false identity and masquerading as someone you are not, lies the complexity of their developing relationship: exploring the nature of love when you live with someone who lies for a living; understanding what drives them, the far reaching consequences of their choices, & the rationalization of their acts of violence.
At the heart of "The Americans" is a family infected by the conviction that loyalty to country overshadows family or one's own soul. As viewers, we're asked the tough questions: If the couple wore blue instead of red, would it change anything? Are spies heroes - or pawns? Is patriotism formed by rational choice - or the product of where we're born? At what point is the loss of one's humanity too high a price?
Now I have come to terms with my appreciation of that 'what makes a guy bad' is ever so often 'what makes a show interesting'. Us having slightly dull lives with work, kids, pc-games and drinking beer, we all want to be a badass meth-cook, brilliant murder of sicko's or in this case KGB undercover operative. Well at least for 1 hour per week.
This show follows in the high standard acting of the other mentioned shows. Is kinda slow, in a good way, not rushing into it. Takes time for character development that makes you want to know more about these spies and what there other motives are (other than fighting the cold war).
The strange relationship between the mother-spy and father-spy is also highly entertaining. They really 'work' together, even in their marriage. Can't wait to see how that part of the storyline will turn out.
In part 3 Margo Martindale (Maggs from Justified) makes appearance, a great actress that can play a very believable 'woman mob-boss' (or in this case KGB field director). A great choice for the part.
Hope to see many more seasons and if they run out of material, we can always hope for a second cold war between the US and good old Mother Russia
How a spy's life can get twisted in his/her line of work has been delivered in a no non sense manner right from the first episode. How the spy starts to believe in the lie of their fake identities and subsequent emotions while carrying out their mission, leading to conflict in every aspect of their daily lives has been depicted very effectively.
The pilot episode built itself quite nicely and never allowed the grip to loosen up. The actors gave a powerful performance and created an ambiance of palpable tension/anxiety/thrill and looked very professional while going about it. Cinematography seems to be very apt and complimenting as well. Must add.. The makeup artist/professionals need to be commended here. Solid start to the series.
As i am not going to supply any spoilers, i will not be indulging too much here, but this series seems to be having the potential to carry itself in a subtle fashion, or it might morph into something very tense and power packed. Should keep the audience interested.
The very last episode felt so unexpected and actually I don't know why, it was inevitable, but this aching portrayal of worlds (personal and external) dissolving echoed parallels of the time and an eternal human truth, this is what we all struggle with ultimately, letting go of attachment to any idealogy or concept good or bad.
Phillip and Elizabeth have been sleeper Russian agents in DC from the early 1960s to the early 80s, the show's setting. Reagan is the new President and is heating up the Cold War. Our two spies have been playing the role of typical American husband and wife, keeping their secret life even from their pre-teen daughter and son. Then an opportunity arises where Phillip, who has been tiring of his double life, is given a chance to take his family, whom he's grown to love, out of the game and into riches and safety. Elizabeth, also of two minds but for different reasons, is suddenly shown just how much Phillip loves her through his unhesitating sacrifice of this ticket to freedom. In the end it looks like it will be the two of them against the rest of the world. What will happen?
I have a few problems with the production, particularly the flashback sequences of the characters twenty years younger in Russia. They really should have used different actors. It is just the pilot, though, so we'll see how that goes.
On the plus side, there's good acting, good writing, and good character development. I'll be watching!
The plot itself was excellent and the way they ended the first season makes the viewer desperate for another season to see how it would go on. Mostly what I liked about this show is the spy techniques used during those eras by the KGB and the way they operate their intelligence abroad; very spectacular.
Lastly, I would have given it a 10 only if there was a better actor than Mathew Rhys (Phil); I've seen some of his other acting and I couldn't spot much of a difference.
What a roller-coaster of plot and emotion! Creator: Joseph Weisberg certainly had a winner on his hands and Keri Russell, Mathew Rhys, Holly Taylor, Noah Emmerich, and my favorite character Nina played by Annet Manendru brought this show to life! Anyone who missed this series missed a real treat of entertainment, mystery, thrills, and suspense!
My only problem was this last season which (as I understand) is the end of the entire show. It went out in a quiet frenzy with our two main characters making an edgy yet unremarkable escape. Maybe I'm being too picky because I did not expect this to happen. Whatever, I did enjoy this show start to stop.