The Americans, a thriller? Not exactly | Bleader

The Americans, a thriller? Not exactly

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Noah Emmerich as FBI Agent Stan Beeman in a scene from the first season of The Americans
  • AP Photo/FX, Craig Blankenhorn
  • Noah Emmerich as FBI agent Stan Beeman in a scene from the first season of The Americans
"Fast-paced drama," Alessandra Stanley, New York Times.

"Tension-filled series," Lori Rackl, Chicago Sun-Times.

I don't care what the critics say. The Americans, which launched season two Wednesday night on FX, is a comedy.

A black, satirical comedy, to be sure. With nothing in it that resembles jokes. But to describe it is to describe farce.

Here's Stanley describing it this week in the Times.

"It's about two Soviet agents posing as an ordinary American couple during the Reagan era Cold War . . . Their marriage is both arranged and real: Their feelings for each other are intense, but also often in flux."

That's Elizabeth and Philip. Then there's the couple across the street, Stan and Sandra. "He's a counterintelligence F.B.I. agent having a secret affair with a Soviet source who may return his feelings but is also reporting on him to her bosses."

Did you follow that? Writes Stanley, "Everyone in this layered show has cover stories, divided loyalties, mixed emotions, and hidden motives."

Elizabeth and Philip and Stan and Sandra are best friends. They see eye to eye on how to raise the kids. When the fires flicker on the home front, they turn to each other for advice and support.

There have been rocky patches. Last season Elizabeth threw Philip out of the house for philandering—though that had nothing to do with his romance with Martha, which was strictly tradecraft. Martha had a nicely placed job in Stan's office, so Philip, wearing a funny wig and calling himself "Clark," wooed and won her, and at the end of season one, they actually married, Elizabeth attending the wedding as Clark's sister "Jennifer."

You're getting all this? As I wrote at the end of season one, "I can't describe this plot without my imagination hearing boudoir doors slam open and shut as dissipated nobles shove nubile maids under beds."

Rackl identifies Elizabeth and Philip as "Soviet sleeper agents" living in the U.S. under deep cover, characters inspired by ten actual Russian sleeper agents who were arrested in 2010 after the FBI had monitored them for years and sent back to Moscow. The way Elizabeth and Philip's Moscow masters have them running around Washington, D.C., putting on and taking off wigs as they blackmail this putz and gun down that one, the FBI hot on their trail, they wouldn't have lasted two weeks. But as the cold war ended satisfactorily a quarter century ago, it's easy not to care about any of that and simply hope that when the curtain falls on Elizabeth and Philip and Stan and Sandra and Nina (Stan's sweetie, who's wrestling with her feelings), true love has won out. The way it does in The Importance of Being Ernest.

In the New Yorker dated April 3, there's a piece on Vladimir Putin by editor David Remnick, who used to cover the Soviet Union for the Washington Post. He recalls that as that country began to fall apart, there was a "pervasive mood of desperation in its most repressive offices" that sometimes "took on comic dimensions." For instance, in 1990 he came across the headline "MISS K.G.B." in a local paper. "Below was a photograph of a woman in her twenties, named Katya Mayorova, provocatively adjusting the strap of her bulletproof vest. She had, it seemed, won a beauty contest at Lubyanka, the K.G.B. headquarters. This was new. I took a sip of coffee. The article described how Comrade Mayorova wore her vest with 'exquisite softness, like a Pierre Cardin model.' Beyond 'mere beauty,' her talents included the ability to deliver a karate kick 'to her enemies' head.'"

This could be Elizabeth, as played by Keri Russell. Magnificent and preposterous.

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