It’s 1981. Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings are small business owners that live in a nice suburb of Washington. They are loving parents. They are intelligent and charming. You would like them. They are also smart, resourceful and ruthless KGB sleeper agents that have been living in the US for the past 20 years and are willing to employ extreme methods to serve their Soviet handlers. You would still like them.
The Americans is similar to the Sopranos in making us like characters that we definitely shouldn’t. Tony Soprano should be beyond sympathy but after a few episodes I was under his spell. His humour, intelligence and vulnerability made me forget he was actually a monstrous criminal. The same is true of The Americans. Phillip and Elizabeth are dangerous spies that commit treason as part of everyday life and will protect their identities with murderous efficiency but throughout the series I found myself rooting for them, hoping their relationship would hold together and that their true identities would not be discovered. I was also rooting for the FBI agent that just moved in across the road. The agent whose job is to catch spies. It’s complicated.
Like The Sopranos The Americans is not about the incredible situation in which it is set but about the lives of the people that are surviving within it. Characters are conflicted when higher, idealistic goals contradict their personal feelings and their priorities and loyalties come in to question. There are no heroes or villains here and the classic roles of bad Soviet spy and good lawman are not so clear.
I have only seen the first series of The Americans so far thanks to its availability on Amazon Prime but I have my fingers crossed that the second and third will be available soon because it is a great series. Plus it has big 80s hair. Perhaps I should have started with that.