The premise of The Americans, which is set in the early 1980s, is that Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, a suburban Virginia couple who seem as American as apple pie and the Fourth of July, are actually a pair of ruthless KGB sleeper agents whose marriage was arranged by spymasters in the Kremlin. The show returns for its third season next week, and here are six reasons why you should be watching:
1. The Americans is exciting!! From the opening sequence of the pilot (which involved a kidnapping, a stabbing and a car chase) right up until the closing moments of Season 2, the show gives us all the exciting spy games we could possibly want. There’s also the mental and emotional tension of not quite wanting Philip and Elizabeth to succeed in their missions (and we know, of course, that ultimately the Soviets didn’t win the Cold War) but also not wanting them to be exposed or killed.
2. The writing is, for the most part, extremely intelligent. I love the way the writers incorporate actual historical events into the storylines, such as the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, or the U.S. government’s support of the Contras in Nicaragua, or the struggle of Soviet Jews to be allowed to emigrate to Israel. Plus, showrunner Joe Weisberg’s own background in the CIA and knowledge of spycraft informs such wonderful set-pieces. Take “Gregory” for example, an episode from Season 1 where Philip and Elizabeth try to make contact with a colleague’s widow before the FBI gets to her. The writers also don’t fall into the trap of making smart characters do stupid things just so the plot can move along; we get the far more exciting pleasure of watching clever people do clever things that are thwarted by circumstance or the technological limitations of the early 1980s (from our vantage point, it’s so startling to watch a world without cell-phones, GPS systems, tiny cameras, or sound recorders, etc. But they do have an awesome mailroom robot in the FBI!). The show’s writers even managed to put the Jennings’ teenaged daughter Paige at the center of the plot last season without making me roll my eyes or reach for the fast-forward button.
[We're looking at you, Homeland...]