There’s a temptation to look back fondly on the Cold War, if for no other reason than that the line between good and evil was clearly drawn: the U.S. hated the Soviet Union and vice versa.
But in The Americans — premiering tonight at 10 on FX — that line is muddled, both for the characters and the audience. The time is 1981, and Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) seem like the all-American couple, running a travel agency and raising their two children in suburban Virginia. But what their neighbors — and even their children — don’t know is that they are actually Soviet spies living deep undercover.
“You’re rooting for them and against them,” says executive producer Graham Yost. “It’s an interesting dilemma for the audience, which we find really fun and we think people will, too.”
The idea arose after news broke in 2010 about Russian spies who had been living in America for years, Yost says. Setting it back in the Reagan years allows the series to really encapsulate the era.
“It’s the last great gasp of the Cold War,” Yost says, citing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Star Wars missile defense system and the Iran-Contra scandal. “It was just this big, heightened, crazy time and there were no cellphones. Computers were just in their infancy, so it didn’t have to be a tech-heavy world. We could go back to more Cold War spy stuff.”
Photo: Credit: Frank Ockenfels/FX