For my last post, I decided to talk about The Americans, one of my favorite shows currently airing on television. The show follows Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, two undercover Soviet spies who live in Fall Church, VA (not only is that in NOVA, but it’s also probably the most NOVA place in NOVA… if that makes sense… most folks are super wealthy, highly educated, and work in DC). The couple have two kids, Henry (who seems to disappear for long periods of time) and Paige, work as travel agents, live next to an FBI Agent (who they befriend), and sometimes have to kill a person or two. The show provides an unique perspective on the Cold War. America is “the bad guy” and the viewer gets to see some of the more shady things that we did. The show is really great about being morally complex. It lets its characters live in a sort of grey area, and wrestles with the consequences of being loyalty to one’s country.

Being a spy has never seemed so enticing yet utterly terrible.

In addition to being a drama about family, the show is known for its wigs and its spot on 80s references.


Episodes hinge on things like The Day After or Ronald Regan’s “Evil Empire” Speech. The fact that the the early 80s was an especially tense period in the Cold War is not lost on the writers of the show, and they really bring out that tension. Things were so tense that stuff like this was happening.  Russians basically thought the US was just making stuff up to rile their citizens against the Soviets. The anecdote about a person showing up to the Soviet Embassy looking to sell  “a collection of the very latest CIA inventions for killing people” to the Russians would be funny if it wasn’t so indicative of the hysteria of the period.

There is even some allusion to Soviet issues in the 80s. Pretty early on in the series it is revealed that Phillip Jennings had a son with another woman. That son ends up being deployed in Afghanistan, so Phillip is highly invested in what goes on there. The show really shines with all of its US 80s pop culture references, though. They reference everything from Eddie Murphy on SNL, to Tootsie, to the Redskins losing to the Raiders in SuperBowl XVIII. This is in addition to having a very 80s soundtrack (Fleetwood Mac, Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music and -of course- In the Air Tonight and Under Pressure, by Phil Collins and Bowie/Queen respectively). The show is such a well put together period piece (and not nearly as pretentious as Mad Men) that makes you feel as if you have been taken back to the 80s.  The movies, the settings, and the paranoia are all there.

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