Monday 10 June 2013

The Americans are still coming .... show 2 quick review

Does ITV's The Americans have a chance of becoming one of the next 'must see' serials on TV? A new Homeland, perhaps? Might it do as well as BBC's The Fall.

Judging by Saturday's second episode, I think it does .... and can.

The actors - leads Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys - are excellently chosen as the Russian couple whose life is based on falsehood and fantasy as undercover Soviet spooks in suburban America, into whose lives the truth is seeping in and threatening to undermine everything they've devoted their lives too.

This weekend's show was a race-against-time story. Asked at short notice to bug Casper Weinberger's house - there's a name for the teenagers, one of the eminences grise of US diplomacy in the eighties - the Jennings choose to kidnap and poison the son of Weinberger's cleaner in order to get her to plant a device in his office.

It was fascinating to remember how much more challenging espionage was back in the 'eighties when, sans Internet and sans iPods and steady-state technology, secret recordings required a real to real tape recorder and transmitter the size of a small suitcase! Technology has made a spook's life a lot easier, surely!

Many reviews have pointed to the real-life discovery of Russian sleeper agents in the US in 2010 - one of the prompts for creation of the show was the discovery of the gorgeous Anna Chapman, Russian femme fatale and apparent embedded operative. Recent knowledge of this sort of real-life example does aid the viewers belief in the story and the question at the heart of it: do we really know the people we live across the street from, and spend our daily lives with? The premise, therefore, has currency (particularly in modern times when for Soviets one could read al Qaeda lone wolves or Chinese cyber agents). The scripts and the dynamic, tense relationship between the main characters I think creates real believability. The situations, the fears, the anxiety when they lie in bed, the show captures well the emotions anyone would feel when they fear the game is up and their life-long game of charades may be under threat.

At the heart of the show is a simple device to create tension - will they get caught by next door neighbour, a FBI lead agent ? It's a great way for the writers each episode to ratchet up the tension, tighter and tighter, with discovery coming closer and then - twang - like an elastic band snapping back, the Jennings can go back to living an apparently domestically happy life, until the next threat to their existence.

In terms of spy craft, it seems plausible enough, and clearly the show's creator being an ex-CIA operative ensures that what we see procedurally and out in the fields is likely to be pretty authentic.

There are obvious parallels between this story and Len's Game, Set and Match triple trilogy. At the heart of both stories is a marriage, a relationship between two people which is threatened and also driven by the global strategic power struggle between nations of millions, implacably opposed to each other and dedicated to defeating their ideology. Betrayal, loyalty, trust, denial - all are crucial human emotions that are essential to any good espionage story. This series seems to have it in spades, so far.

Do share views on show 2 below.

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