The Americans is three episodes into its second season on FX, and so far, the series has only improved upon an already stellar first season. It’s dark, it’s stylistic, it’s emotionally complicated, and it is riveting drama. Unfortunately, despite being an incredibly sexy show at times, The Americans often doesn’t get the kind of buzz that The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones or True Detective gets, even if it is often as good as those other dramas. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe because it’s not a Sunday night show. Or maybe because there isn’t a fantasy element involved, or zombies, or sneering douchebag villains.
I wish that The Americans were more talked about on the Internet. I wish it was appointment viewing. I wish that it got the appreciation that it deserves. I wish that I could convince people that haven’t given it a chance yet to tune in, catch up (the first season is on Amazon), and make memes and mash-ups and GIFs and develop theories so that the Internet will jump on board, so that it can become one of the most discussed shows every Wednesday night and Thursday morning, and so that we can all share it together. Here’s the best 9 reasons why.
1. Because It Involves Anti-Villains — If you’re tired of the glut of anti-hero dramas on television, The Americans offers a nice twist: The Anti-Villain. Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings are Commie spies, and as capitalist Americans, we shouldn’t be rooting for them. But we do. Why? Because The Americans isn’t about the interest or the motivations of the character, it’s about the characters themselves, who we become intensely invested in.
2. Because It’s the Show Homeland Wanted to Be — Homeland was at its best in the first season, when we found ourselves rooting for Nicholas Brody, even though we knew he was probably a terrorist. The Americans is the Cold War equivalent of that, only the daughter in this equation is much less annoying than Dana Brody, and the writers don’t have any intention of flipping the script by turning The Jennings into FBI informants. In fact, one of the most compelling conflicts in The Americans is the tension between the Jennings’ duty to Mother Russia and their obligation to their American children, who essentially embody American suburban values.
3. Because It’s a Great History Lesson — I happen to know a writer on this show, and I happen to know that she spent a lot of time studying the period, which not only helps the writing staff get the details right, but they manage to work in bits and pieces of actual Cold War history into the show. It’s a fascinating examination of a period most of us were too young to experience, and that the television and film world barely explores outside of stereotypical Communist villains. The Americans humanizes the bad guys.
4. Because of the Wigs — There are so many fantastic wigs in this show. Does it actually disguise the Jennings? Not particularly, but they are ridiculously fun.
5. Because of the Soundtrack — So much of television and film that goes back to the 80s often focuses on the cheesy music of the era, but The Americans tends to include the darker, heavier songs of the early 80s in its soundtrack. In other words, the good stuff. There’s quite a bit of early Peter Gabriel, there’s The Cure, the Squeeze, Pete Townshend, and Roberta Flack. It’s fantastic, period-perfect, moody and often haunting music that’s not a bunch of Cyndi Lauper or a series of one-hit wonders (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
6. Because of the Writing — As great as the first season was, the writing is even better in the second season. It’s a show that takes its time. It doesn’t aim for huge, shocking episodes. It doesn’t throw in a lot of huge twists. It creates tension, then it slowly turns the screws, and it doesn’t release that tension every other episode with a killing spree designed to provide relief. Deaths are matter of fact, a sometimes necessary evil, but all they do is ratchet the tension, increasing the likelihood that the Jennings will be caught.
7. Because Sexy — The Americans is a very stylistic, and sometimes, dead sexy drama. Think Jennifer Garner in Alias, only with a more frequent (and more graphic) sex scenes (ironically, when J.J. Abrams cast Alias, his prototype was a kick-ass Felicity). Other times, that sexiness is awkward. For instance, when the daughter walks in on her parents in full-on 69 mode, a first for television (which happened in the same episode that Keri Russell’s character was also involved in a threesome).
8. Because Keri Russell is Seriously Bad Ass — If you only know Keri Russell from Felicity and other similar roles, you may be surprised by how adept she is in the action scenes. What’s perhaps even more remarkable is how sly she is about it: She doesn’t walk into a room and punch out three guards. She’ll sneak up on someone one in some nice lingerie and then, at their most vulnerable, she will SLASH THEIR F***KING THROAT. And maybe sometimes, she’ll just KICK SOMEONE’S HEAD THROUGH A WALL. She’s ruthless and cold.
9. Because of the moral ambiguity — There are no good guys or bad guys in The Americans. There are simply people doing their jobs, serving the interests of their own countries. The interests aren’t always good — on either the American or the Russian side — but the intentions of the characters are pure. We’re exploring the lives of bit players in a huge, decades long war. There are no individuals attempting to build empires or gain the throne. In fact, for the Jennings, it’s just the opposite: They want to serve their country with as little disruption to their suburban lives as possible. Their aspirations are nationalistic, not individual.