(Welcome to The Daily Streaman ongoing series in which the / Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Series: “The Americans”
Where You Can Stream It: Hulu
The Pitch: Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) are a prototypical American couple living in the suburbs of Virginia who, on the surface, appear perfectly normal. Their most exciting attribute happens to be that they live next door to a bland FBI agent, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) – along with the fact that they’re actually covert Soviet spies, living deep undercover in the United States for the last 15 years in order to turn the balance of the Cold War in their favor. No one in their ordinary life, not even their young kids Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati), has even the slightest inkling of their deepest and most vital secret.
Managers of a modest travel agency by day (did I mention this takes place in the 1980s?), The Jennings spend every minute of free time embarking on various spy missions to infiltrate their chosen marks, gather information, and occasionally kidnap or even assassinate a target of extreme political importance. Like certain other brilliant shows currently on air, where the tension derives from the slow-motion car crash of seeing how much our protagonists will compromise their morals, “The Americans” puts the screws on Elizabeth, who’s the true-blue patriot of the two , and Philip, the far more reluctant secret agent between them.
But the show’s secret weapon is how their initial attempts to coldly work together for the cause of Mother Russia eventually give way, opening up the story into one about spycraft, yes, while also transforming their largely loveless marriage into something meaningful.
Why it’s essential viewing
Were you under the impression that the espionage drama / thriller series about Russian operatives infiltrating the highest levels of the American government during the peak of the Cold War would never be more relevant than it was around the 2016 presidential election? When a certain Russian interference story broke while the show was airing? Think again!
Not only is “The Americans” far more complex and nuanced than viewers may have expected back when it first premiered in 2013, but it’s proven its staying power tenfold in the years since thanks to its heady mix of thrilling action sequences (like the one that kicks off the entire series), the aforementioned moral drama of how far Philip and Elizabeth are willing to go to maintain their cover and get the job done, and creator Joe Weisberg’s uncanny penchant for some of the most perfectly-timed needle drops you’ll ever encounter on network television (including the utterly inspired use of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” in that earlier scene).
Do you wear wigs?
From moments of domestic struggles to harrowing acts of brutality committed by our “heroes” to the most swoon-worthy tooth extraction you’ll ever see (yeah, you read that correctly), “The Americans” is truly multiple shows in one. In addition to its central romance, the story also follows the ignorant Stan Beeman’s efforts to capture Soviet spies on American soil, the KGB handlers issuing orders to the Jennings from the embassy and back in Moscow, and the ever-present risk of our main characters blowing their cover. That’s where the delightfully never-ending series of wigs and disguises come in, turning Rhys and Russell (a real-life couple, mind you!) Into funhouse mirror reflections of themselves.
With “The Americans” now streaming in its entirety on Hulu, there’s never been a better time to take the plunge for yourself.