New! The Americans-Channel ITV in the UK 113 on Virgin Saturdays @ 10pm My first Review:Warning-spoilers-posted 9th June 2013

The Americans

Episode 1:

So The Americans appears to be good.  As in really, really good.  So it’s set in the 1980’s.

TV Guide says:
“Cold War drama series.  Philip & Elizabeth Jennings seem like any other American married couple in 1980’s Washington DC but they are actually highly trained Soviet Spies”

On first viewing:
The wife has been horribly raped by a KGB trainer.(flashback)

The guy has a blonde wig.
(we later see the agent he has impersonated to get information)

Russia (1960) when she is training.

Moscow (1662) flashback..
We see when Elizabeth & Phillip meet,  Like a couple being matchmaked by an anxious parent.  Except this isn’t an anxious parent it is a KGB Colonel in palatial surrounding with a file announcing that:

” there would be less slips in the future if you forget all about your lives now”.

Then there’s the F.B.I neighbour who comes to live next door to the spies and we are not sure if he has done it on purpose as there has been talk at the office about Russian spies.  The F.B.I Counter Intelligence office.
(The neighbour is very scary, just by being so jolly and avuncular you know he is a deadly adversary somehow.)

My feeling is he knows and he moved there on purpose.

 Philip and his son go to see an astronaut at a talk.(everybody claps)

 Elizabeth: (to her husband, Philip)
“My name was Nazderza, I was born in Smolensk,  My father died when i was two, he went to fight the Nazis…”
“There’s a weakness in the people, I can feel it..”

Uh Oh…The CIA man gets into their garage,.,looks everywhere with his little flashlight and finds nothing.

thoughts on first episode:

So i really liked the Americans.  It was fresh, summat different. Nobody gets horribly murdered. Its the 1980’s.  Oh wait, scrub that first bit.Still, it was a delightful dalliance into the past.  Where somehow, illogically really, everything seemed more innocent, more quiet, more real.

Well the quiet would be from the dearth of mobile phones.  Again, a blessed relief in a drama to be free of all the prerequisite techie screen gazing stuff.

yes, i like computers too and all respect to such cyber skills and wonder at the technology.  However after a while it just gets dull.  We can watch them on here.  We can watch them on there.  Wait, we can get the feed through the door, so, as in  the Flashpoint series and all those hunky swat guys.  Can we get on with the drama now please once we’ve all stopped metaphorically gathering around the bright, blinking screen.

If aliens were watching us from afar:
(since apparently it’s a real hassle to visit us due to the light years involved which means their life forms would have to go into suspended animation. So they  would only bother if really desperate for a new planet. or some new DNA perhap?)
they would possibly deduce that our computer screens and phone screens were the (mostly) universal food source. (or a religious entity but aliens would have to know about religion to wonder that)

Anyway, i digress. I really liked the Americas it was right up my street.  As always, I struggle somewhat with completely believing some of the characters belong to that time.   In the case of the Americans we as viewers are meant to struggle i suppose, with Elizabeth and Phillip’s identities since we’re in on the secret.

OK not really a struggle but a silent questioning of how well they are doing in their secret roles as American suburban couple with 2 kids.  The children, we learn,.are completely innocent of the fact that their Mum & Dad were match-maked by a Russian General who becomes a Colonel later.  Their Mum was pretty much forced to have sex and 2 kids with a stranger for the Motherland.

The fact is that apart from an obvious reluctance to engage in a any physical contact and lovey-doviness, Elizabeth is committed and passionate in her love for her country and mission.

Elizabeth can still be delighted about the air conditioning when she first arrives and sits, severely submissive, obedient and controlled on the edge of a bed in a generic room with her fellow Russian spy, their arranged marriage and their first night in America.

Rather delightfully and amusingly they encase Phillip in a succession of dopey wigs, all fringe and over-long side burns that curl.  He verges more to 70’s and flare wearing flower power at times.

Even more amusingly Philip has his own actual blond wig which has more than a tragic touch of tranny as we see him throw it, abandoned, into their his & hers spy safe.

 In there too is an ancient giant Dictaphone upon which Phillip tortures himself by playing his wife Elizabeth having sex with targeted honey traps in their spy world.  We see that Philip is in love with Elizabeth, but the other way around we are not so sure.

Elizabeth manages the ageing transition (from the time of the flashback to approx 10 years later) and morphs into American 80’s very well.  So does Phillip, if nearly too well in that he seemed impossibly American to me.  Meaning impossible for him to be really Russian.  That is probably how good at it he is meant to be or possibly the deliberate portrayal of a man who has truly become American because he loves the life there.  He has, as they used to say,”gone native.

 Philip is prepared to abscond and break cover, get themselves a cool 3 million dollars courtesy of a KGB defector currently tied up on their trunk in the boot of the a car with a really horribly uncomfortable looking ball in his mouth.

Until Philip finds out why Elizabeth doesn’t like physical contact.  Then he changes his plans, all for Elizabeth we realise, this means she is priceless to him worth more than $3 million.  Ah.

Then, shortly after that, Elizabeth realises she loves him.  Ah.  We are forced to watch them shagging in a car for a while.  Tight fit.  yes, we geddit, they’ve finally both in love.  The dashing duo are established. Them against the world: or rather America.  With us on their side. Emotionally at the very least.

‘Cause Elziabeth & Philipe are cool and they have had tragedy.  & the CIA neighbour is seriously sinister when he chuckles and smiles.

Yes, the neighbour scares me a lot more than them.   Philip is super smooth as he sits, silently outside the garage in side silhouette in Spiral-esque blue black & white sky.   Of course he would know somehow, that somebody is searching his garage, he’s a spy.  We wait, with baited breath to see if he the CIA man spots a drop of blood, anything, with his mini flash light.  Nothing.

Deliberately they have shown Elizabeth earlier scrubbing the carpet and we imagine that very bit and wait for smiley FBI man to come to it.;  However he leaves after examining the trunk, or boot of the car is he convinced?  We doubt it.

How you experience and feel about the Americans may depend on whether you are a child of the Cold War.  If you are lots will be familiar to you.  There will almost be cliche.  The palatial surroundings of the KGB Colonel. His promotion to General.  The cowed obedience yet spartan air and kick ass moves, that part related to being trained by a tough, higher echelon super power.  Well it was kind of like that at the time..

The good thing about The Americans is that cliche, make that enjoyable cliche or not:it still seems fresh.  Whether you are a child of the Cold war or not.  Me personally, it was right up my street, If anything, a little too heavy at times slipping weirdly easily to sentimental.  Ugh.  Who knows.  The 2 main characters are genuinely good.  We feel for them, empathise, connect already.

Well metaphorically speaking we do.  A review i read  compared the Americans to Homeland and found it lacking.  I can see that.  Homeland’s dramatic tension rested upon our secret and knowing/knowledge of the anti-hero’s identity.  It was him and us against the world.

Yet The Americans has 2 such protagonists, surely that would double the drama?  We will see.  Certainly both characters so far show signs of being as charismatic in their roles in The Americans as they did in Homeland.  Homeland being hokum mostly but resting on it’s quality acting.  So it is with The Americans.

I did enjoy the different colours to be found in the Americans. There are lots of shadowy night scenes in sepia cars where the daring duo do devilish deeds and change number plates on their big boat of an innocent looking family car in double quick speed.

I couldn’t help but wonder how their children were doing back at home alone, quite young during all these escapades of Philip and Elizabeth. Still, kids did get left alone in the 70’s. Maybe the 80’s?  It could be that one thing that made Elizabeth & Phillip different.  As in we’re just doing a job different.  Yet they were really parents too.  Is this how parents in Russia roll?  I doubt it.

Probably the mission had to take precedence above all.  & the kids are most likely tougher and older than i think.

Yes, the scenes in The Americans, the colours, the clothes, the hideous creepy Dad in the supermarket who makes an offer to super spy Dad’s daughter could well be of that time.  When sexism reigned supreme.  Except in the Motherland perhaps?  Oh, wait..

Episode Two:

More shagging.  A blonde lady tied up with stretchy things. We find out she is a spy too with a handy camera down her bra.  Thats a new one.

In this episode we see Elizabeth’s loyalty to the Motherland waver and admire the chameleon like skill and efficiency displayed by Philip in taking on his various characters for their missions.  Truly, he barely looks like himself with a moustache on.  Its uncanny how good at disguise he is.

It is signposted a little too obviously for us, as if we were not managing to cope with a morally ambivalent character, that Philip and Elizabeth are good guys, really.  They get sad after their latest escapade.

Whenever they are on a mission Elizabeth puts up her hair in two coiled plaits at the side of her head as if she was in Dr. No.  Or even Dr. Zhivago.  Nobody whatsoever in their mutual days seems to notice that they spend most of their time out and about doing extremely detailed and complicated spy things.

 I mean they have a basement workshop and everything.  Medium giant aluminium boxes that are short-wave radio receivers are produced and placed, doubly nestling in the trunk of Phillips car out in the brown dry forest.

 Yep, once in a while or more like a blue moon they actually go to work in a cupboard type first floor office which is meant to be a travel agents.  They confer, forever, talking behind paned glass in offices.  Yet nobody ever bothers them or asks them what they are doing.

  Its all most odd and unlikely really yet still great fun.  Of course its all going to end in tears. Myself i truly convinced myself for a while of the possibility of the smiley yet highly suspicious FBI man had planted a receiver in the box of caviare.  Yet nothing happened.  I don’t think…

Oh yes & as if they read my mind this episode produced the sight of a babysitter, red-haired and smiling, Phew.

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