The Americans

The Americans

TV-MA

One of TV's greatest character studies, where thrilling spy intrigue meets densely written family drama

The Very Best

8.9

TV Show

United States of America
English, Russian
Crime, Drama, Thriller
2013
Costa Ronin, Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sellati
48 min

TLDR

Come for the questionable wigs and fake facial hair, stay for some of the best slow-burn drama that the American TV industry has ever put on screen.

What it's about

Two deep-cover Soviet agents pose as a married couple with two young children, while gathering intelligence and carrying out missions in Washington, D.C. at the height of the Cold War.

The take

It may have never reached the heights of popularity that other prestige antihero dramas of its time did, but The Americans stayed true to itself for six incredibly consistent seasons. In the vein of "real" spy shows and films, it's much more deliberately paced, with the bulk of the drama taking place not through shootouts or technical wizardry but through the gradually fraying relationships between characters and their respective beliefs. As the Cold War stretches on for Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (played by real-life couple Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell), the former begins to feel increasingly drained by all the violence he's committed, wishing for a mundane American life; while the latter maintains a steely dedication to her mission, which also puts her loved ones in harm's way.

Throughout The Americans' run, it creates a stunningly detailed tapestry of both Soviets and Americans agents giving themselves over to causes that they still don't fully understand. But perhaps even more so than a story of loyalty to one's nation, it becomes a story about the constant demands of marriage and of making connections in a dangerous world despite the risk of betrayal. It never announces its themes loudly, but by the end the weight of these characters' isolation and disillusionment is unlike anything else you could experience on TV.

What stands out

Russell and Rhys are given the opportunity to create characters of profound internal turmoil, and each of them knocks it out of the park. Russell's laser focus at times makes her seem more terminator than human, but there's no doubting the pity she has to express when she sees the repercussions of her actions on other people. And Rhys slowly drains Philip of warmth after every dangerous mission, but maintains the love he clearly has for his whole family. And these performances only get better with every season, culminating in one of the best and most quietly devastating series finales in recent memory.

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