We’ve been watching “The Americans,” the FX series about two Soviet intelligence agents posing as a married-with-children couple to spy on the American government.
Spoiler: this is not a documentary about Donald J. Trump and family. It’s set in the early ’80s. Therein lies the charm, I guess. It seems almost quaint to imagine the Russians bothering with deep-cover agents when they’ve pretty much got the run of the White House now — and when almost half of Americans are OK with it. Who would have guessed?
The show premiered in 2013, but we’re latecomers, now just halfway through season 3. For some reason, it’s not a show we’ve cared to binge-watch. But two thumbs up so far. As a fantasy about Cold War espionage, it’s mostly preposterous but always entertaining.
Things I really like:
- Keri Russell: Beautiful, lithe and lethal. If all spies were this charming and dangerous, we’d really be in trouble. One question: How does Elizabeth get all those wigs on over that beautiful head of hair?
- Matthew Rhys: Those disguises. I’m always a sucker for disguises in fiction, and his are really ingenious. Especially when he’s in character as Clark. What a dork! But a wild man in the sack!
- Detroit iron: The cars on “The Americans” aren’t really beautiful, but they’re really, well, American. It’s fun to see so many of those dinosaurs in one place. You don’t realize how much the auto industry has changed until you see all the Dodge Coronets and Olds Cutlasses driving around. Not a Honda in sight.
- The tension and pacing: Never a dull moment on this show. Creator Joseph Weisberg, a former CIA guy, doesn’t owe much to John LeCarre, whose own pacing could be kind of glacial. There’s a lot of violence, seduction, car chases, double and triple betrayals. Some might say it’s too much. But then again, no.
Things I’m not crazy about:
- No sense of humor: I don’t expect a laff riot here, but shows like “The Sopranos” or “Breaking Bad” did a great job of juxtaposing the mundane routines of suburbia with the ruthless demands of the night job. Sometimes “The Americans” takes itself too seriously. I get that it’s hard being both a mom and a murderous spy, but it’s also absurd enough for a bit of dark humor now and then. The show never quite goes there, and feels pretty cold as a result.
- More unbelievable as time goes on. Maybe this is addressed in the next two seasons, but by now Philip and Elizabeth Jennings should be about as recognizable as Sonny and Cher. They’re killing and compromising people all over the greater D.C. area for this many years, and nobody runs into them at the mall? The disguises are good, but they’re not that good.