One of the things I probably enjoy most about FX is their fearless approach to storytelling. There are so many great shows on the network and at the very top of that list for me is The Americans. I never thought I’d root for two KGB agents, but it’s not that black and white. We’ve got Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, two seemingly ordinary Americans. They’re living the dream and trying to provide for their family. Or, at least that’s what it looks like on the surface. In reality, they’re doing everything they can to infiltrate the US government and learn whatever secrets they can to help the USSR gain the upper hand over America.Â But they’re also trying to be good parents. Having children is an integral part of their cover identity, but they also want to provide more for their children than their parents were able to provide for them.
So, in the spirit of the holidays, I thought it would be fun to count down the 10 reasons I am so devoted to this show. Let’s get started.
10. It’s a period show. I know when I say “period,” I’m usually thinking about the early 20th century or before. I love shows like The Knick and Downton Abbey and that they give us a glimpse into such a different time and how people were different – but also very much the same. This show is set in a different century and it takes place in a time when oh so many people made very questionable fashion choices, but I’m sure that’s true for every era. The clothes, the hair, the technology. One thing the EPs mentioned at NYCC this year is that the lack of technology – no cell phones, computers that can only do word processing – make the stories work that much better. Elizabeth and Phillip can’t just call each other to find out what’s going on and that heightens the suspense and makes their missions that much more interesting. If you were alive during the 80s, it must be kind of fun to remember the time – now that you’ve got perspective and distance. If you were just a baby or a twinkle in your parents eye, it must be strange to think about how different life was even a few short decades ago.
9. It’s a smart show. Don’t get me wrong: there are times I need to sit in front of the TV and watch something with no “nutritional” value at all. However, this isn’t one of those shows. One of the things I love about The Americans is that it makes me think. And it makes me want to know more — about the Cold War, about our history with the Sandinistas, about Russia’s endgame, about whether using the second generation of KGB spies was viable. I just love shows that make me curious and this is one that I can be thinking about for hours after I’ve watched an episode.
8. The guest stars are always so good. I don’t know who the casting director is on the show, but they’re doing a great job. The two that standout from season 2 for me are Aimee Carrero, who played Lucia, and Lee Tergesen, who played Andrew Larrick. Lucia was someone Phillip and Elizabeth recruited. She had a definite chip on her shoulder, but she was young and believed in the cause. Elizabeth, especially, saw herself in Lucia and, I think, wanted to foster that spark and help develop Lucia into more of an asset. But when Lucia went too far with Larrick and became a liability, Elizabeth let Larrick kill her. The Jennings were able to blackmail Larrick, a patriot in every sense of the word, by using his sexuality against him. But when one of their ops went south and they had to kill some of his compatriots, Larrick decided to do what he does best and hunt them down. It looked like they were going to die at his hands until Jared saved them. Jared died in the process, but not before telling them a surprising secret about what Centre was up to.
7. Holly Taylor. Paige Jennings is such an interesting character on so many levels. She’s intelligent and curious enough that her parents know they need to be careful with their cover around her. They’ve caught her checking up on them and know she suspects there’s something else going on under the surface. And Paige is in a difficult spot. She’s yearning for meaning and purpose in her life. Right now that seems to be taking a religious bent, but it looks like at least Elizabeth is willing to see if her daughter has any talent in the spy game. The Centre wants to recruit Paige to be a second generation agent. As a citizen she’ll be able to pass the background checks required by agencies such as the FBI and CIA. If the Centre can have someone like that working for them with that level of unprecedented access, it would be a game changer. It remains to be seen if Phillip will allow this to happen. White resistant at first, it seems like Elizabeth is now on board.
6. Annet Mahendru. It was hard to fathom, but it seemed like we’d come to the end of Nina Sergeevna’s story at the end of season 2. But she was on the panel with the rest of the primary cast at NYCC this year. The only thing she was allowed to say was, “I’m still alive.” So, there’s that. I have to admit that I’m relieved. I was pretty shocked when Stan didn’t come through. We know he loved her, so it was surprising that he, in essence, was going to let her die. In my mind there’s no way she can be of further use in getting Stan to share agency secrets, so I wonder how she’ll fit into the new season. I can’t wait to find out.
5. Noah Emmerich. Stan was suspicious of the Jennings at first, but now he at least sees Phillip as a friend. EPs Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields talked about giving Stan a break sometime during the first two seasons, but they never managed to make that happen. If and/or when the Jennings are finally exposed, it’s going to be so bad for Stan. But for now, he’s got other things to worry about — his marriage is over, he’s essentially sent Nina to her death. The only tiny bright spot in his life my be Phillip, which is very, very depressing considering what we know. But Stan certainly needs a friend because ofÂ everything that’s going on with him. I’m so curious to see what’s next for him and if he can recover from what he thinks he’s done to Nina.
4. Margo Martindale. Margo Martindale is integral to this show. She can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned – except for that awful, dreadful (and now canceled) little comedy she did called The Millers. But FX seems to find her the most complex, interesting roles. She was a breakout as Mags Bennett on Justified (for which she won an Emmy) and she’s been outstanding in her role as Claudia. She keeps surprising me. I mean, she’s the one who told Phillip and Elizabeth about Russia wanting to implement the second generation. I’m just endlessly fascinated by her and I hope we see her in more episodes in season 3.
3. The storylines and the writing. As I mentioned earlier, I love that this is an intelligent show and both the storylines and the smart writing contribute to that. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that EP Joe Weisberg used to work for the CIA. So, right away that adds a level of authenticity and credibilityÂ to the show. He and EP Joel Fields had some intel to share at NYCC this year. Of course there was a lot they wouldn’t give away, which I appreciate. I always want to discover this show’s secrets as a viewer; it makes a bigger impact. One of the things Joe and Joel did talk about was their desire to see Stan and Phillip spend more time together. In seasons 1 and 2 the story didn’t allow for us to see much of that friendship, but that will change in season 3. The war in Afghanistan will loom large this season as well.They also told us that as much as the last 2 seasons were about marriage, this season is about parenting.
2. Matthew Rhys. This show wouldn’t be what it is without an interesting concept and great writing. But I think what makes it one of my favorite shows on TV is the leads. There’s so much this show wouldn’t be able to do without the great acting of Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell (more on her in a minute). In season 1, it didn’t seem like the marriage part of their cover was going all that well and Phillip was having doubts about their mission. In season 2, their marriage was solid and they were working so much better as a team. One of Philip’s cover identifies is Clark, who is married to Martha. That’s a pretty interesting relationship and one that is very necessary for them to do their job. It was interesting to see Elizabeth get jealous and to then see the fallout from when Elizabeth wanted Clark, not Phillip, in her bed. There are always hiccups in their relationship, but at the end of the day I do root for these two. It’ll be interesting to see if Elizabeth can persuade Philip about Paige. The fact that he risked revealing himself to Arkady is huge. If he didn’t know how far Phillip would go to protect his family, we doÂ now. I just wonder if Elizabeth will be able to persuade him about Paige and it’ll be interesting to see what it does to their relationship.
1. Keri Russell. For me, the best thing about this series is Keri Russell. And as I’ve just enumerated, there are so many things I love about this show. I like that Elizabeth Jennings is so fierce. She’s extremely loyal to the Centre. She’ll question things, but I think ultimately she believes in what they’re doing and trusts that their missions are getting them closer to their endgame. She’s got a partner she trusts and loves in Phillip. Their marriage was part of their cover for so long, but now she know how much Elizabeth truly loves her husband. They work well together because of what they’ve been through together. Part of the fun of any spy show is getting to see the undercover work they do. A lot of it is sexual in nature, because it’s easy to use sex as a way to control and manipulate people. But they’re only really intimate with each other. And even though Elizabeth’s relationship with Paige is challengingÂ and clearly affected by Elizabeth’s difficult history his her own mother, there’s so much love their — for both of her children. I can’t wait to see if Paige becomes a second generation agent. Is it weird to want to see them work together?
Season 3 of The Americans premieres Wednesday, January 28th at 10/9c on FX.
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