I’ve started to get myself caught up on some telly that’s been sitting on my Sky+ this week. As is usually the case – there are quite a few bits n’ bobs hanging around on my Planner (It’s rarely got more than 25% memory free at any given time) – and as the top priority stuff I was watching starts to conclude until the Autumn, or I turn away from some shows that aren’t doing it for me, I am now finding a bit of time to get into the little curiosities and shows of interest I’ve not fitted in yet.
One of those little curiosities is “The Americans” on ITV. I watched the first handful of episodes earlier this week and I’ve got to say I was pretty impressed and eager to watch more.
For the uninitiated; “The Americans” tells the story of a traditional American suburban family in the 80s with a secret; the parents are both deep cover KGB spies posing as a couple to hide their espionage activity. The show focuses on how complicated their lives are, as they try to juggle the family life they’ve forged together through years of deep cover, the Counter-Intelligence activity of the CIA & FBI, and the demands of their KGB superiors.
It’s not very often that a show’s pilot would be all that was needed to get the hooks into me; normally it would take a tentative viewing of a couple of episodes before I’m committed, but this show had one hell of a powerful pilot and hooked me very quickly. The rest of my week’s evenings became about ploughing through the other episodes stored on my hard drive.
The premise is certainly an intriguing one and a great platform for some dramatic tension through some fascinating scenarios. I’m going to try and keep this spoiler free, so will not refer to specifics, however some of the circumstances surrounding their deep cover and the situations their double lives gets them into offers up some really engrossing telly – once I’d started the pilot I couldn’t break away and the 1 ½ hour flew by. To the show’s credit; it’s driven by the human drama of the situations and sucks you in because it’s not all Tuxes, Martinis & glory a la James Bond but a secret war that involves real people and has a very real human price for those at the ground level of the conflict. There are no political abstractions here.
I love shows that make me question who to root for. I don’t think it’s too spoilerful to suggest that the audience’s loyalties are tested by this show in a manner akin to such shows as The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards. These are Russian deep cover spies, conducting nefarious espionage activity; which in these first few episodes alone have included kidnapping, the intimidation of innocents, assassination plots and murder, yet I somehow felt a connection to the main characters and, when things were looking precarious, hoped for their success. It’s the character of Phillip (so expertly performed by Matthew Rhys) that is at the centre of creating a loyalty in me with this pair of antagonists – watch it and see – the writing and performance are extraordinary and transforms him into such a sympathetic character my loyalties are very much divided.
The 80s setting is brilliantly realised too. I loved the little bits of scene setting stuff; like the music on the radio in the background or the grainy news broadcast being watched on an 8 inch colour TV. As a young child in the 80s I was particularly oblivious to some of the wider, darker aspects of 80s culture & politics and I loved the way the show gave me a sense of the scarier side of a time that was all about action figures, cartoons & Michael Jackson/Billy Joel pop singles for me. I’ve enjoyed all the old school spy-craft too – being set in the 80s there’s no quick wins here, not a whiff of any problems being solved with satellite surveillance, mobile phone tracing, or electronic skeleton keys that miraculously open everything. It’s the long, lo-tech way around everything here – and it makes for great viewing.
There is some real potential for this show on going – if it keeps up the quality of this start through the season it will be a real contender for greatness. I hope & pray that the episodes to follow (I might even get through a few tonight) live up to the quality of the ones I’ve watched so far.
Did anybody else catch it? What were your thoughts?