I am aware that in the age of Peak TV, there is absolutely no time to watch anything. But if you haven’t seen FX’s The Americans, which aired on from 2013 to 2018, you have a significant television drama blindspot that is as embarrassing as having never seen Casablanca but declaring yourself a cinephile. The series follows two KGB agents who are living a normal suburban American life. By day, they work at a travel agency and by night (and honestly most days) they go on assignments for the KGB.
The show is a mixture of Mad Men and The Sopranos. Like Mad Men, it’s a slow burn, a deep character study that examines the complexities of human relationships and identity. It wrestles with the dangers of a country poisoned by capitalism. Like The Sopranos, it unpacks the American Dream by exploring the dynamics of a quaint American family (husband, wife, daughter, son) and it manages to pack in thrilling action between all the familial drama.
The chemistry between the now-married-in-real-life leads Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys is intoxicating and makes it one of the best, sexiest, shows of the Golden Age and, honestly, my favorite television show of all time, with one of the best series finales of all time. The Americans is now streaming on Hulu, and is, therefore, easier to watch than ever. Here are five reasons why you should watch The Americans (which is a perfect fall watch considering its surplus of knitwear and coats.)
1. Keri Russell
On The Americans, Felicity star Keri Russell played Elizabeth Jennings, an undercover KGB agent living an All-American life in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Elizabeth Jennings is not only one of the best female characters ever written, she’s one of the best characters ever written. Elizabeth (who does not chop her hair off for any season) is fiercely loyal to her homeland to a fault. She will do anything for the Soviet Union, even killing innocents. Throughout the series, Elizabeth struggles with her American life and her twisted loyalty to Russia as it begins to conflict with her genuine feelings for her husband, Philip, and her love for their two children, who believe they are a normal American family. Russell’s subtlety is essential to the role, which requires a quiet but poignant cruelty and buried emotions. If you watch The Americans, you will find yourself getting very, very upset that she never won an Emmy for the role. So if you need something new to be mad about, let it be this.
2. The Original Sad Boy
Kendall Roy is television’s favorite sad boy of the moment, but Philip Jennings did it first. Matthew Rhys who, unlike co-star Russell, won an Emmy for his performance in the sixth and final season, plays Philip, who is the polar opposite of Elizabeth. Philip is the conflicted KGB agent, who, over time, actually falls in love with his partner/wife and simultaneously, with American life. He’ll do his job, but unlike Elizabeth, Philip gets emotionally attached and is enticed by the ease of American life as opposed to life in his home country. In a particularly chilling season three episode, Elizabeth and Philip stuff a dead woman’s body into a suitcase by breaking her bones. Philip shows his pain throughout the scene, while Elizabeth is simply doing her job. Philip is Kendall Roy level weepy but sexy and has a piping hot temper that Rhys builds up to seamlessly.
3. The Wigs
As spies, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are sexy. But more importantly, they are masters of disguise. Throughout the series, Elizabeth and Philip take on multiple alternate identities. Some of those identities have such a distinct persona and look that they become essential characters on their own. But these identities wouldn’t work without the wigs, which can transform the very hot Elizabeth and Philip into frumpy cat lady or mulleted ’80s punk. Wig queen Nicole Kidman wishes she had the Jennings’ collection.
4. The Soundtrack
The Americans begins in 1981, and unfolds throughout the entire decade. Instead of opting for the standard, expected 80s soundtrack, The Americans weaves deep cuts of early punk (like early The Cure) with classics like Fleetwood Mac and Elton John. The music is vital to the series, and is used cleverly to capture a mood, propel the action, and establish where the characters are at mentally. The music is not used simply to establish the 80s time period. The pilot episode features one of its best needle drops ever, with Fleetwood Mac’s riveting “Tusk” during a thrilling action scene.
5. The Stacked Supporting Cast
While it’s Russell and Rhys who elevated the The Americans into one of the best shows of the Golden Age, they’re also joined by an overwhelming, fabulous supporting cast. Noah Emmerich plays the show’s equivalent to Breaking Bad’s Hank Schraeder, FBI agent Stan Beaman, who happens to be the Jennings’ new neighbor and who strikes up a friendship with Philip. Margo Martindale and Frank Langella play KGB handlers for Elizabeth and Philip, and later in the series, a pre-Ozark Emmys Julia Garner joins, all but confirming that she would soon become an award-winning star.
BONUS: The 69ing Scene
While Game of Thrones was more concerned with sexual violence and the male gaze than anything else, The Americans was concerned with actually sexy sex scenes. In the season two premiere, lovebirds Elizabeth and Philip Jennings engage in mutual, simultaneous oral sex, which is more popularly known as 69. Nice! The scene is brief, but it’s hot and we are eternally grateful that FX managed to get this on air. In hindsight, it was probably a good thing that so few people watched The Americans as it aired so they could get away with it.