Monday, 21 December 2015

The Americans Season 1 (2013)

Washington DC, 1981.  Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are husband and wife travel agents.  They have a nice house in the suburbs and two children; 13 year old Paige and 10 year old Henry.

They're also elite Soviet spies, who have been carrying out sabotage, espionage and assassinations since being infiltrated into the US nearly twenty years earlier.

With the new Reagan administration ratcheting up the Cold War tensions, Philip and Elizabeth must face ever more challenging and dangerous missions from their Moscow-based directors, while struggling to maintain the facade of their 'normal' lives and protect Paige and Henry from the consequences of who their parents really are.

The Americans is a smart, well-written, well-acted "spy soap" that follows not just the Jennings family but also the FBI agents who seek to catch them and the Soviet embassy staffer who gets caught in the middle.  The cast is uniformly strong: not just the leads, which is probably to be expected, but also the regular minor players all turn in sound performances.

Writing-wise, there is of course an interesting tension between the fact that the Jennings family are our main point of view characters, with whom we sympathise, and yet they regularly do pretty terrible things, such as poisoning a college student as a means of blackmailing his mother.  Not that the people chasing them are pure as the driven snow either, of course.  They're not above a little blackmail or assassination of their own.  The show is definitely a "shades of grey" affair.

This is good stuff.  I ploughed through the entire season in a weekend.  I don't think I can give a more convincing recommendation than that, really.

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