Show of the week: The Americans29/09/2019 - Author: admin - Comments are closed
Behind picket fences: Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Russian spies in The Americans.Monday, Channel Ten, 8.30pm
It’s too much for the young agent at FBI counter-intelligence to believe: Russian ”super spies” disguised as regular Americans embedded throughout the country, operating spy rings from behind the white picket fences of suburbia? Surely not, pull the other one, it plays Dixie. And yet …
It’s 1981, kids do homework on typewriters and there’s not a mobile phone in sight. After three decades of behind-the-scenes sparring, the Cold War is running out of steam but Ronald Reagan has just been elected, anti-Soviet rhetoric is ramping up and the currency of paranoia still buys a bunch of action among the old guard in Washington. Besides, a defector, a former KGB colonel, has spilt about the embedded spies in return for a new life under the Stars and Stripes, so slam-dunk, case made, the enemy is inside the gates.
The audience knows it’s true because we’ve met Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys). The Soviet agents live in a Truman Show suburb of perfect lawns, with kids in the local school and an Oldsmobile in the garage. They appear to be such normal Americans it’s creepy, especially when you see what they get up to at night. Watching these frauds go about their everyday business in their ordinary domestic setting recalls those horror/sci-fi flicks in which aliens live and work among us as perfect human replicas. You half-expect the Jenningses to unzip their red-blooded American skin suits to emerge as the slavering Slavic monsters they really are.
Despite meticulous training, there are hints of un-American behaviour: making fun of a teacher with a harelip because he assigned homework about how the Russians cheat on arms control; defending the Soviets’ achievements in the space race; dressing up like Deborah Harry and seducing a presidential adviser to get counter-espionage information.
Clearly, the Jenningses are evil. But then cracks start to appear in their ideological resolve, there’s a bit of marital discord – plus glimpses of a horrific backstory – and we feel stirrings of sympathy for them. When an FBI agent moves in across the road, threatening their cover, we suspect that we’re going to start rooting for them.
Russell is tough and ruthless as Elizabeth, a long way from the college girl character she played in Felicity; and Rhys’ hard-as-nails-but-wavering spy is in a different universe from Kevin in Brothers & Sisters. The story plays out against a fabulous soundtrack – megahits Tusk (Fleetwood Mac) and In the Air Tonight (Phil Collins) are used to superb effect. It looks great and has intriguing possibilities.
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