Monday, February 09, 2015

Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

The Americans: "Pilot"

I always thought that the Fleetwood Mac song "Tusk" would make a cool background song for a secret agent show. I just never figured until I saw the first episode of the cable TV series The Americans that the secret agents in the show in question would be Soviet agents. Especially Soviet agents who were working undercover in the United States of America.

Yet it says something about The Americans that the show's writers manage to take this dubious premise and make it work -- even though they're in effect asking the show's American audience to root for the type of people whom they would obviously dislike in real life. Call it if you will a legacy of Dexter, Weeds and The Sopranos -- three successful cable TV shows which also dared American TV viewers to "root" for the type of people they would dislike in real life. Or maybe it's just nostalgia for the 1980s. After all, the 1980s seemed to be the last decade in America which had its own distinctive music, fashion and pop culture. At least it had a pop culture that had not been totally blanded out by the Internet. Or perhaps it would be simpler to argue that compared to today's Mideastern terrorist troubles, the Cold War antics of the 1980s seem as simple as the black-and-white politics of the Second World War must have seemed to people living in the more gray era of the Ronald Reagan Administration.

Anyway, the opening sequence of The Americans's first episode is not just about exploiting the cooler musical moments of the 1980s. It also answers one of the more logical questions posed by the show's storyline: why don't the agents in question defect to the United States? That question is answered quite simply by the fate of the would-be Soviet defector who is captured by the show's title characters in the episode's opening episode -- a capture that goes off almost perfectly until the couple in question fail to make a key rendezvous due to the need to tend to a wounded accomplice. As a result, they literally miss the boat that is supposed to take the defector back to Mother Russia and end up getting stuck with him. As if that were not bad enough, the wounded accomplice ends up dying of his wounds anyway.

In any event, the agents in question tend to be different in one regard: one is a "true believer" who genuinely supports the Soviet system, the other is more a skeptic who is not crazy enough to openly embrace the American system but can't help noticing its obvious advantages over the Soviet Union. As it turns out, the true believer -- played by actress Keri Russell -- also had a secret connection to the defector -- a secret that eventually comes out before the episode is over. And though both agents are thought to be in a marriage of convenience that was arranged by their bosses in the KGB, one agent -- the man, natch -- is more emotionally attached than the other. Which proves to be a key factor when that agent is asked to choose between his spouse and his mission...

Anyway, I found The Americans to be more interesting than it should have been. And not because I wax nostalgic for the good old days of the former Soviet Union. Indeed, one of the most refreshing aspects about this show is the way it refused to play down the fact that both characters had a great capacity to act like absolute bastards just because both of them were working on behalf of the Soviet Union. In other words, they were not the usual Russian agents with hearts of gold that one might normally expect from a liberal TV show.

Time will tell how successful this series will be in the long run but I for one am glad to see that it has lasted for more than one season. Granted, I might change my mind about that after viewing future episodes. But for now... I am content.

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