Turns Out It’s Pretty Good is an occasional series about our new-old obsessions.
I’d heard a lot about FX spy drama The Americans over the years. Not only do the show’s Russian-spy disguises constantly pop up on my Twitter feed, but it also stars Keri Russell of Felicity, a program I’ve long been obsessed with (remember when she cut her hair?). But I’d simply felt far too busy to start watching the show — I had to work my way through the entirety of Suits and rewatch all of Friends multiple times first — and, eventually, five years passed.
If, like me, you’re late to The Americans party, here’s a brief synopsis: Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are an incredibly attractive married couple in the 1980s living just outside of Washington, D.C. You might think they’re normal travel agents, but nope, they’re Russian spies — so-called “illegals” under the KGB’s ultra-secret Directorate S. They live in America, talk like Americans, and act like Americans, all while doing things like wearing wigs, banging people, secretly marrying the secretary of the supervisor of the FBI counterterrorism unit, and other spylike activities for Russia.
I was not unfamiliar with Russia before starting the show. I knew about all the human rights violations and widespread political corruption, as well as the country’s habit of silencing women and journalists standing up for what’s right. I know Russia has been accused of interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the country’s interactions with the Trump administration are currently the subject of a federal investigation. There’s also the whole pee tape thing.
And yet, while watching the first five seasons of The Americans over the course of one month, I found myself rooting for Elizabeth, Philip, and their fellow murderous KGB agents. I don’t want anyone to find out that Philip is also Jim, the 40-something man hanging out with and occasionally kissing the 16-year-old daughter of a CIA agent to bug her dad’s briefcase. I sympathized with Elizabeth when she had to shoot her spy protégé because he had accidentally touched an infected body they were digging up for biological warfare. I actively hope that Agent Stan Beeman never finds out his neighbors are “illegals,” and I’m proud Elizabeth and Philip’s daughter Paige is now working with her mom on spy tasks.
It’s strange to be actively pulling for characters I know are doing some shady illegal/murdery/treasonous things against the U.S. (a country in which I’ve only recently become a naturalized citizen). And yet, I can’t help it. The writing, direction, and costumes in this show are perfect. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (also a real-life couple!) are so beautiful and fascinating as Elizabeth and Philip; Holly Taylor plays a teen going through normal angst and also the new knowledge that her parents are spies perfectly; and I love that Margo Martindale’s character seems warm and friendly, when in reality she’s a brutal Directorate S handler.
Now, I can’t get through a normal conversation without bringing up The Americans and/or the KGB. When friends ask how I’ve been, I talk about the exploits of the Jennings family more than anything going on in my real life. I no longer trust anyone, genuinely wonder if living in the U.S. has made me greedy, and I know a few words in Russian (“Spasibo” is thank you). Getting a glimpse into this secret spy world has been simultaneously thrilling and addicting.
Turns out, it’s pretty good.