Scene & Heard

Clark: Immersed in television’s ‘Americans’

pclark@modbee.comMay 8, 2014 

Oh, binge watching, you great and tortuous technological marvel. Some day, I’ll get a full night’s sleep again.

But not until I catch up with the FX series “The Americans.” This TV drama about Cold War KGB spies posing as American citizens in Washington, D.C., during the early 1980s Reagan administration is beyond addictive.

I started saving Season 2 on DVR when it began in February, based on promos during the past season of “Justified.” But the shows piled up because I wanted to see Season 1 first.

Finally, last weekend, I hooked up to the first season electronically and stayed up Saturday and Sunday mornings until 3 and 4, respectively, unable to control myself from repeatedly watching “just one more episode.” Sunday night, I watched the season finale, 13 shows in one weekend. And I wanted more.

By the time I went to sleep Monday night (OK, OK, early Tuesday morning) I’d devoured three episodes of Season 2. And I wanted more.

“The Americans” is a period piece, set during a time I remember as a college student. Funny, it took me a couple of episodes to realize the clothing was so very 30 years ago, because it looked so very familiar.

But the show is a gritty tale of what “we the people” only kind of thought might be going on between the KGB and the FBI during the Cold War, when we all worried tensions would set off a nuclear war.

“The Americans” actually are Russian KGB agents, Elizabeth and Phillip, who have two kids and pose as an couple in suburban D.C. They live across the street from an FBI counterintelligence agent, Stan, and his family, whom they’ve befriended and – of course – spied on, dutifully.

It’s part spy drama, part love story as Elizabeth and Phillip (names given to them by the KGB) find their way toward a caring marriage rather than an arranged work relationship.

The weirdest thing about watching the show is how you root for Elizabeth and Phillip – and for KGB agent Nina, forced by Stan to work for the United States, but who turns the tables on him and starts feeding him bad information for the Soviets.

They’re the latest television antiheroes. The characters are bad guys that American agents needed to neutralize to bring down communism and protect the United States, but the ones viewers are sympathetic to because it’s their lives we’re following.

It’s not that you want them to win their “cause,” but you do want Elizabeth, Phillip and Nina to somehow live happily ever after – even though you also know that isn’t a likely end game. Of course, it’s written that way, to make the audience care about these infiltrators.

Elizabeth is hardest to like – dedicated to “the motherland” and without regret, she’ll do anything – anything – to carry out her missions. But as her back story dribbles out and as she interacts with her kids and softens to Phillip, she becomes a more sympathetic character. Phillip is a nice guy at heart who appears to have more remorse, but is just as ruthless when he has to be.

The show has, happily, been picked up for a third season by FX.

Watching “The Americans” recalls a visit my family took a few years ago to D.C. One of the few sights in the nation’s capital that carries a ticket price is the International Spy Museum, but it’s completely worth the cost (especially if you’re with a son as enamored with the whole spy mystique as most any other boy in America).

The show’s sort of a TV version of an exhibit there, “Spies Among Us.” It also reminds me of one other piece of information imparted before we left: Washington, D.C., has more spies living there today than any other city in the world. I spent the rest of our trip wondering if every person we passed was a spy – on the streets, in restaurants, at the monuments.

It was fascinating, disconcerting and a little obsessive. Just like watching “The Americans.”

Stylish wedding for Brent

Former Modestan Jeremiah Brent, who became a TV personality during a stint on the now-defunct Bravo reality TV show “The Rachel Zoe Project,” was wed in New York City over the weekend to celebrity interior designer Nate Berkus.

The wedding at the New York Public Library marked the first same-sex union at the landmark, according to a Los Angeles Times story earlier this week.

Berkus, 42, wore a J. Crew suit, and Brent, 29, a Saint Laurent suit, and the two exchanged identical gold bands from Van Cleef & Arpels, the story reported.

The guest list, according to the Times, included Oprah Winfrey, Rachael Ray, “The Kitchen” co-host Katie Lee, designer Rebecca Minkoff, “Cougar Town” star Busy Philipps and Elizabeth Hendrickson of “The Young and the Restless.”

Reach Scene editor Pat Clark at pclark@modbee.com.

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