The Americans – Pilot
Though FX have chosen some risky central characters in the past they have generally all been somewhat right-wing ones: dedicating shows to Dirty Harry-esque gunslingers, rich doctors, a suburban family haunted by spirits of sexual deviance and their biggest hit Bikie’s who sell guns on the freest market of all, the black one. This is unsurprising given that they are corporate cousins to the likes of Fox News ( though of course the divisions are apparently kept completely separate). What does surprise though is the fact that here they have greenlit a series built up around the ultimate anti-hero, one not even the most empathetic of viewer could ever relate to: communists. They always warned us that Hollywood was full of reds and here they are making a show that humanises them, that sympathises with them. It’s enough to bring the ole blacklist out of retirement.
That horrid tradition, however, wouldn’t be the only thing that The Americans works to revive: alongside the bad fashions, ugly haircuts, unseen actors and classic tracks the show also takes a que or two from the shows of its depicted era, from eighties films. The shockingly successful wigs that make up the bulk of contemporary spy-craft, the screeching tyres of the Oldsmobile that really needn’t be speeding and the ridiculous but really entertaining use of eighties classics like Tusk in the score give the show a feel closer in tone to Miami Vice than The Shield.
On the other hand though this is a very modern show in terms of its censorship, or lack-there-of; that joyous tone does not denote an innocence of content. No, instead this pilot alone contains a multitude of murders, all brutal, a number of consensual sex scenes, the rape of a woman, a successful paedophile, an impressive display of the damage acid does to flesh all and most shocking some conflicting socio-political views. None of this shocking material is included simply for the sake of shocking though, the show tells what could have been a pulpy story in a potently mature and occasionally too trusting way ( casual viewers will be a little lost, some of the core ideas not explained in show till late in the hour).
The maturity of the show does extend a little more into the intellectual than that list suggests though, while the politics – outdated as they are – don’t get a heavy workout here the philosophy of the spy game in general does. Touching already on topics like the monkeysphere and Stockholm Syndrome, how we are all raised loyal to that which surrounds us – our family, our home town, the culture of our youth and of course our country – and how those loyalties change as out personal contexts do. It seems trite when you simply say that one half of this faux-family is wavering while the other stands steadfast and true, but seeing the story unfold over e hour is very interesting and this, more than any of the cool action, is what I am most keen to see more of as the show continues.
There was something occasionally clunky about the construction of this pilot and thus the extended length made it feel somewhat laborious by the end but this is all that was holding it back from brilliance. The cast is cracking – the three leads in particular; underrated actors all, especially by me – the concept is crazily fascinating, the tone unique and the combination utterly unlike anything else on or off air. I didn’t love this first hour like I did say Homeland‘s but whereas that show seemed to hit every beat perfectly, seemed to hit its peak during its pilot this one feels as if it is only getting warmed up and can reach even higher still in the right hands. So thank god it’s in Americans (please don’t put me on the blacklist).