If you haven’t watched the first season of FX’s The Americans, there’s still some time to check it out before Wednesday night’s premier. It’s not on Netflix, though, so you’ll have to find it on whatever virus-riddled Slovakian website you use to look at weird porn. (Upon further review, it appears that Amazon Prime Instant has the exclusive rights, so, well, there’s always that option, too.)
It’ll take you a little bit of time to power through the initial 13 episodes—it’s an hour long drama, as is the current fashion—but it’s worth it.
I’ll wait here…
…okay. How was it? Pretty great, right? Compelling? Expertly paced? Well-acted?
I’ll admit, I was skeptical when the show premiered last season. On one hand, FX has had a pretty terrific recent track record of producing TV dramas. And since I’m a fan of things that give me nostalgic twinges for my childhood, I also liked the fact that it was set in the 1980’s. But I like the things that I remember and love from being a kid; playing Nintendo with my dead-eyed friends, taping Bon Jovi songs off of the radio, Pizza Hut pizza that used to be good, Alf. When I was young, the REAL Cold War started after Chris Holman threw an ice-ball at my eye in a neighborhood snowball fight, and the whole thing had very little (or nothing) to do with the Russians.
Plus: I’ve gone on record as saying that frankly, I think spies are a little stupid. (Not spies themselves—they’re typically pretty smart, I’d imagine—but the idea of fictitious spies cavorting about has never really done anything for me, ever.)
But as we get older—and hopefully wiser—we begin to take an interest in the past. History becomes something to study and understand, possibly as a conduit for an enlightened tomorrow. A wise man—I think it was Sherwood Schwartz—once said something like, “if we don’t understand the future, that shit’s just gonna happen again, motherfucker,” and I think he was right.
So there’s nothing wrong with a show that sometimes focuses on America’s geo-political turmoil during a period when I was more concerned with the proper way to tight-roll my jeans and whether I could talk my parents into letting me get a kick-ass Brian Bosworth haircut. I was too young to fully grasp the complexity and seriousness of the era’s environment, but that’s why we have books and Wikipedia, and shows like The Americans.
In case you missed it—and haven’t really put it together yet, based off of my inane ramblings—the show is about two married KGB agents who live in Washington DC and, you know, do spy stuff. This would all be very passé, except that their new neighbor is an FBI agent who focuses specifically on spy stuff, AND the two KGB agents don’t really love each other on account of this all being an arranged situation, but because of human emotions and whatnot, they maybe DO love each other, but then again, maybe love is just too goddamned complicated, even for calculated, uncaring, super-intelligent Russian spies.
To simply sell this as either A) a spy drama with a human-condition subplot or B) a character driven drama where the characters all happen to be hugely important in a greater landscape, however, is doing the program a disservice. It’s a little bit of both those things, but it’s also a richly intense portrait of life, period. It’s actually pretty easy to see ourselves in any of these characters’ shoes, and that’s what makes this show work on a multitude of levels. The plots are mostly straight-forward, the characters aren’t unnecessarily complicated (other than, you know, being human or whatever), and, because some shows have all the luck, the suspense and drama never feels forced or contrived.
And that’s why I’m glad I learned long ago that sometimes you might have a book with a cover that looks unappealing, but you should go ahead and check the book out, anyway. Because, even if you think spy stories are boring as hell, there could be much more to the spy-story than a lot of boring cryptography bullshit and wrist watches that do more than wrist watches should. Sometimes, a story is a lot like the Transformers and there’s more than meets the eye.
The Americans second season premiers Wednesday on FX, 9pm CT.