The Americans balance espionage with family

The star performances given by Russell and Rhys, combined with the convincing writing of Weisberg, form the base of a show that is both riveting and endemic of 1980s American society. / Photo Courtesy of FX Networks

Tech students are taught from freshman year to hate the color red. This might change, however, with the dawn of FX’s new series, The Americans. The show is a Cold War-based series following the lives of KGB spies on American soil.

Keri Russell (Felicity) and Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters) expertly play Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, a typical couple living the American Dream. They have two children and live on what a character in the show deems, “the most boring street in America” in the suburbs of 1983 Washington D.C. However, the Jennings are anything but boring.

The Jennings are anything but boring.

As revealed at the onset of the series, the couple accepted an arranged marriage so they could have covers as sleeper agents. Nothing seems real about their marriage except for the fact that they care about their children. Even then, the Jennings struggle with what will become of their democracy-loving son and daughter. One parent favors family over country while the other thinks nothing is more important than the Soviet homeland.

Although The Americans is set in the 1980s, the timeline bounces back and forth between then and the ‘60s and ‘70s. Audience members witness the long-term relationship that the Jennings share. They seem to love each other beyond the facade, but after fifteen years of a sham marriage, they either do not recognize their own feelings or choose to ignore them. Like all couples, they argue about how to parent and who should chaperone school events. These daily issues are further complicated by their Soviet missions, which involve anything from stealing to kidnapping. It is amazing that these elements of family and espionage can mix without making the show seem fake. One does wonder what the children are doing during their parents’ missions, which more often than not seem to occur on school nights.

With powerful performances, Russell and Rhys show how their characters care about their children while also showing how much they love their home country. This concept is shown in both small and over-the-top ways. When the Jennings’s son remarks that America was the first nation to walk on the moon, for instance, his mother lovingly notes that the Soviet Union did “an amazing job” making it into space first. And then there are the more intense shots, like when Phillip roughs-up a man for saying inappropriate things to his daughter.

The Americans is well made, and any credit for this most likely goes to the show’s executive producer, Joe Weisberg

This protective scene as well as others like it are the reason why the show is rated TV-MA; the need for the rating becomes clear in the first few minutes of the very first episode. Violence and sexual content are not excessive in the series, but they are explicit.

The Americans is well made, and any credit for this most likely goes to the show’s executive producer, Joe Weisberg (Falling Skies). Weisberg worked for the CIA before he became a screenwriter, so it is anyone’s guess whether or not the events depicted on the show are fiction, or an inkling of secretive reality. When asked about the development process behind the show, Weisberg stated, “I wanted to do a show about a husband and a wife and their children who don’t know and how it affects the kids. We always conceived of The Americans as a show about a marriage, more than espionage, that shows how, even under the craziest circumstances, the marriage still looks and feels like any other marriage.”

Weisberg does such a good job of developing the characters based around these circumstances that the audience is often torn on who to root for in the show. Do they support socialist loving parents who struggle to balance country with family, or corrupt FBI agents who love America and democracy? Everyone on the show wants to do right, but the version of what is right changes with the person.

Overall, the show revolves around themes of uncertainty and mistrust, and these themes are orchestrated by Weisberg, whose writing makes every viewer question why exactly they think the way they do.

The Americans has aired five episodes this season and was recently renewed for a second season.