In the continuing quest to find television programs that my husband and I enjoy watching together, we’ve come across The Americans. It’s now in season 3 on FX, a channel we don’t currently subscribe to. But—in Canada, at least—Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Rogers / Shaw’s streaming service, Shomi.
It’s set in 1981. The main characters, Elizabeth and Philip, are Russian spies. The pose as a typical American couple, married, two kids, living in the suburbs, working together as travel agents. Their next-door neighor just happens to be an FBI agent focused on counter-intelligence.
Their lives are very complicated.
Elizabeth is the more radical of the two. More devoted to Russia, more loyal to her oath as a KBG agent, more skeptical of America. But as the series begins, she finds her world shifting a bit due to unexpected development: She seems to be falling in love with her husband.
Philip is already there, and finds this a welcome development. But there’s nothing simple about it. They have years of not completely trusting each of other, of just “doing a job” (even if Philip finds himself liking America and his pretty wife). The past (affairs, secrets, lies) regularly reaches out to bite them. The present missions are stressful. And frequently obliges them to have sex with other people.
The mix of action and romance, politics and relationships, is really compelling. Adding a layer of confusion over the whole thing: Who do you cheer for? Elizabeth and Philip are the protagonists; it’s hard not to root for them. (They have those nice kids!) But as spies, they do terrible things. They threaten, injure, and murder people. Civilians, sometimes.
And we also see the American side of things, through the viewpoint of their FBI neighbor. And the Americans—while very far from purely heroic—haven’t (so far at any rate) done anything quite as appalling as the Russians. Still, you don’t really want your “heroes” caught.
So far, at least, we are both equally engaged with this series. And that’s a very rare thing!