TV Review: For the Love of God, Watch The Americans Tonight

January 28, 2015 11:36 PM

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TV Review: For the Love of God, Watch The Americans Tonight

The Americans is the best show most people aren't watching. Given how uncompromising it is, and how many games it plays with our sympathies, that's not a surprise. The whole show is so slippery that it's hard to find anything in it to hold onto. No sooner has a scene or subplot become emotionally concrete, and sometimes hugely affecting, than it takes a surprising or alarming turn, and flips your sympathies upside-down. This Reagan-era time capsule about Russian spies posing as American travel agents is one of the better current examples of antihero TV. The entire point of that mode has been — or at least should've been — to let us approach familiar institutions and bits of received wisdom from strange moral and ethical angles, so that you can see the things in mitochondrial form. It's one thing to look at marriage, parenting, fidelity, and patriotism through the eyes of conventional middle-class bourgeois Americans, as the vast majority of TV shows do. It's quite another to see them enacted, subverted or mocked, in an alternately sincere and calculated way, by Soviet secret agents.

Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) snoop, thieve, screw, and kill on behalf of a nation that was, at that point in time, the USA's ultimate enemy: the Red Menace, the rival superpower, the hive-mind that wanted to rot us from the inside or blast us to smithereens. When you...

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