Tuesday, 11 July 2017
The Americans, Season 4 (2016)
The Americans may well be the best show on TV that you aren't watching. Its been listed in the AFI's Top Ten shows every year since it debuted, but has never found a significant audience. I've seen other fans of the show make the wisecrack that "the only people watching it are the critics - but thankfully they all love it". And I am thankful, since it is probably the critical acclaim that has kept the adventures of Elizabeth and Philip Jennings available for me to enjoy.
Season four finds their situation becoming ever more precarious. This is true both personally, because their secret lives as Russian spies are becoming known to an ever wider group of people; and geopolitically, as the Soviet Union finds itself ever further behind the West in the development of new weapons and technology. There is an ever-mounting pressure to uncover American secrets and send them home, with an ever-mounting pressure to take risks that could do further harm to the Jennings family's personal safety.
The Americans is unusual in that it is not afraid to have expectations of its audience. When it asks the cast to sell the immense emotional stress they're under, they don't do it with anything more than a moment of silence and a slight twist of the mouth. The show trusts and expects the audience to understand what they are seeing, just as it trusts them to remember characters without the need for pace-destroying expository recaps, and to join the dots between separate plot-lines for themselves.
This is not a show you can watch without paying attention, which I suspect is one of the main things limiting its audience, but is also the thing that makes watching it so worthwhile.