This coming Tuesday, March 7th, the best show on television returns for its fifth season. It’s called “The Americans.” But it’s really about the Russians. If you haven’t watched it yet, don’t start by watching the beginning of the fifth season. Purchase Amazon Prime and start with Season 1, Episode 1. It won’t take you long before you’re finishing season 4 and ready to watch the new episodes. It’s that good.
The premise of The Americans is that the Russian government brought together a young man and a young woman who had never previously met, gave them fake American identities, directed them to become a couple and raise a family, and employed them as spies. We are introduced to this couple as “Philip and Elizabeth Jennings,” the all-American parents with two all-American children, Paige (age 13) and Henry (age 10). They live in a classic upper-middle class home in that all-American suburb, Falls Church, VA, which is maybe five miles from the Washington, D.C. line. Philip and Elizabeth work together as principals of a travel agency. Across the street is none other than a master spy-chaser for the FBI who starts out suspecting them but quickly becomes their friend. Since the show is about to go into Season 5 (the plan is to air six seasons in all), you already know that these spies are going to get away with murder – literally and figuratively – for dozens of episodes. What you’ve also probably guessed is that somehow, you will be manipulated into rooting for them. They’re Russian spies doing despicable things, and yet you’ll be rooting for them – even if you’re a Democrat. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Grant me that one joke, please.)
“The Americans” shines a light on the ends-justifies-the-means mentality that seems to have captured our planet today. Whether you’re a Russian who spies on America or an American who fights Russian spies, you’re portrayed as someone who’s got a job to do and are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish your objective. In the world of The Americans, rules are made to be broken; there’s always way too much at stake to treat them as inviolate. Some of the characters are largely unprincipled, others are completely unprincipled, but they’re also highly intelligent and competent. Notably, they are additionally not lacking in humanity. On this show, the smartest people do the worst things and yet somehow come across as dutiful, and sometimes even heroic. That takes good acting, better characters, and superb scripts.
This is a show with many tour de forces, but perhaps none is greater than the way it pulls off an honest-to-God romance between its two lead characters. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings have something in common with the actors who portray them (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) – they’re partners in life. The difference, I hope, is that in real life, Rhys and Russell are faithful to each other. Philip and Elizabeth may depend on one another more than any other couple, may work together day and night, may live together, may raise children together, and may (and apparently do) love each other, but they sure as hell aren’t physically faithful to each other. They can’t be. They are, after all, spies. And every fan of James Bond knows that if you don’t have sex with different people, then damn it, you’re just not much of a spy.
So the Jennings – in the bedroom as in any other room – do what they have to do to get the job done. Often enough, it means having sex on the job. It’s not exactly ideal for their romance, but we’re about to start Season 5, and ... well, let’s just say that they’re still together.
I could go on singing the praises of The Americans, but I don’t want to give away too much. Mostly, I just wanted to tell the readers of the Empathic Rationalist that this show is truly binge-worthy, and if you haven’t started watching it, consider yourself fortunate. Because I’m up to date, I won’t be able to binge any more. Maybe that will take part of the fun out of it. Maybe I should be advising those of you who don’t know the Jennings to hold off until Season 6 is over and then binge away.
But that would be lousy advice. This is, after all, a show about the Russians spying on the Americans, and it’s not being televised on CNN, MSNBC or Fox News. No spin. Just pure entertainment. That’s what I call must-see TV.