Thursday, January 31, 2013

"The Americans": Can an "arranged" KGB couple live incognito in DC area as "madman" Ronald Reagan takes office

As the Pilot of the Fox Network series “The Americans” opens, the wife Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) is opening up the shirt and chest of husband Phillip (Matthew Rhys), as if this whole series were going to become an erotic tease. ("NoNo" doesn't exist yet.)  But a “tease” is all that opening scene really is; how can people have a “romantic” martial (Song of Solomon) relationship arranged by the Motherland? Such is “Life with Elizabeth”.  Betty White would be proud of them.

Phillip and Elizabeth are spies, set up by the KGB to live as “normal Americans” in a modern house in suburban Falls Church VA, starting just months after “madman” Ronald Reagan takes office in 1981.  Their kids will be brought up as regular Americans and live that way, as part of the enemy, foreshadowing unmanageable complications. 

Very early, Phillip goes on a local kidnapping expedition, abetted by two young white men who look like “masculine gay” stereotypes (although this is 1981).  The target is kept muzzled in the trunk of his full-sized Olds. 

Another complication is that the couple’s next door neighbors are a family headed by an FBI agent  Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), who quickly says he does counter-intelligence.  It’s almost trite to wonder if the government planted him there.  The current administration hadn’t even been in office long enough to notice.  (The episode did not mention the assassination attempt on March 30, 1981.)

How does a show come across when there are no cell phones, no Internet, and yet life seems about as modern and convoluted as today?  There were PC’s coming into existence – I sort of expect to see a Radio Shack TRS or an Atari somewhere. 

Note the trailer, where “The Great Communicator” says, “The greatest threat the United States faces now is the Soviet Union”. 

The series is produced for 20th Century Fox by Dreamworks.    The Pilot was directed by Gavin O’Connell.  The Pilot was scheduled for 90 minutes (including commercials) but ran over by two minutes.
The link for the series is here.
Does a viewer “care” enough about the premise to be committed to the series?  It seems oddly dated.  Curiously, the look of the series reminds me of HBO’s “Angels in America”, whose story takes place at the same time, but is much more personal , for me at least.  

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