FX’s The Americans returns for its fourth season on March 16, and if you pay attention to any TV critics, you’ll know that this show is one of the critically beloved on TV. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, a seemingly average suburban couple with two kids. But they’re actually a pair of incredibly well-trained Russian spies embedded in the U.S. during the Cold War years of the 1980s. Based loosely on true stories about married KGB sleeper agents, the Jennings do everything from gather intelligence to assassinate enemies of the USSR, all while trying to appear as American as apple pie. The result is a super suspenseful mix of espionage intrigue and human drama that’s not to be missed.
If that’s not enough to convince you, we’ve put together five reasons why this show works so darn well that you need to binge the first three seasons on Amazon Prime Video stat.
If you grew up in the ’80s during the Cold War, some of the milestone events in The Americans may bring back memories. However, now you’re seeing these events from the other side of the struggle. For those who didn’t live through those years, The Americans will give you a bit of a history lesson. Everything from the Jennings listening angrily to Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire speech to a mission to bug the home office of Reagan’s Defence Secretary, Caspar Weinberger, to the spies getting called in when the Soviets are implicated in the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, reflect real-world timeline moments that can also help you pace how much time is passing as the show progresses.
Which brings me to the second reason…
The Moral Flip-Flop
During the Cold War, Americans were hit with anti-Soviet, anti-Communist messaging from every direction, living in constant fear of Soviet-instigated nuclear war. And if the Russians seemed terrible, the KGB were the ultimate bogey men — expertly trained spies who would stop at nothing to bring down the U.S.A.
Now, decades later, along comes this show that has you rooting for these KGB sleeper agents. You’re literally breathing a sigh of relief when they pull off the assassination of a key American operative or deliver their intelligence to the home office without being discovered. It doesn’t just feel like rooting for anti-heroes; it’s more like nationalistic whiplash. It’s just too sexy and dramatic a world not to get sucked in.
And speaking of drama, let’s talk about that action.
A lot has been said about how much action the show’s embedded spies see versus what real spies did back in the day, but seeing less action wouldn’t make for very good TV, now would it? High-speed car chases, heavily disguised stealth takedowns, ultra-tense near-blown covers — you name it, The Americans delivers. Just like any good spy story should, this show takes full advantage of the high-stakes history of The Cold War to layer on the riveting and hair-raisingly dangerous incidents of espionage happening in that time. And just when you think the Jennings can’t get any more brutal or any more ruthless, something will happen to totally blow your mind.
Now that we’ve covered the cloak-and-dagger action, let’s get to the real excitement of this show: the chemistry between the stars. Philip and Elizabeth in this show are a couple who were forced together by duty to their country. They were assigned to marry and pose as a family as part of a KGB assignment. The evolution of their relationship is very central to the show since the success of their relationship and secret-agent partnership is key to the success of their mission. Pulling that off is often easier said than done, but that struggle is as explosive as the gunfights. They do eventually find their way and then some. The chemistry between these two is so incredibly heated and intense that co-stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell ended up becoming an actual couple in the end. Talk about being dedicated to their craft.
The Wigs…and the Fashions
Ask any fan of The Americans what’s the most entertaining part of the show, and many of them will list the previously mentioned items from this list. But a lot of fans will undoubtedly mention THE WIGS. And maybe not just the wigs; I’d argue that the disguises and the fashions that make up those outfits often steal the show. There’s an entire storyline built around Philip taking on an alternate identity to get an FBI secretary to fall in love with him and believe she’s in a real relationship — all of which hinges on an amazing wig and glasses (seen above). Just consider the number of near-slip moments for that toupee that would totally blow the whole deal. I’m telling you, the wigs are pretty key.
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