Yes, yes, I know it’s a spy show. I know there’s guns, conspiracy, murder and more. Yet, somehow, I’ve stuck the words “family dynamics” up there in the title of this post where, presumably, it wouldn’t be without some reason. I shall, in the method of blogs, explain.
Spy thrillers make a habit of focusing on the spying – foiling the plot, getting the evidence the government needs (or the government doesn’t want them to have), and so on. The Americans has plenty of that, but it’s not all that different from the dozens of movies and TV series covering similar material. Well-produced and from a different viewpoint, but for most of the episodes, you can more or less forget the main characters are operating on behalf of the Soviet Union and watch them conduct their spycraft as you would James Bond or Jason Bourne.
Where I find myself drawn, and what keeps me coming back, is the focus on the couple and their two children. Specifically, the time spent to seemingly innocuous activities like family dinners or teacher’s conferences. On the changes every family experiences when their kids crash into their teenage years. The difference here being that the parents, you know, are stone-cold killers and, on any given night, might disappear after serving mac & cheese to seduce a government employee. This brings a great tension to just about every scene, with me wondering if this is going to be the time the parents collapse and spill out all the terrible details because, you know, Henry needs help with the homework but Dad’s gotta go pop three rounds in a politician and he just can’t hack it anymore.
What boosts these scenes into truly memorable television is the fact that all of the characters continue to grow over the seasons. You’d expect that from the parents, seeing as they’re the stars, but The Americans doesn’t let the kids languish in side-character purgatory. These are roles that could’ve been left aside, or replaced with other adult characters/more spy sequences, but instead we have long sessions with the daughter struggling with growing up, where the son looks for someone to hang out with and, finding neither of his parents ever home, reacts in strange, yet believable, ways.
Think about how many times you’ve seen Tom Cruise blast away some miserable sap of a villain. How many times you’ve seen someone plan an elaborate heist to get something. Now consider how many times you’ve seen the impacts of that life on a realistic family.
The Americans takes a risk, and they’ve created a family that’s more interesting to watch than most guns-a-blazin’ spies ever have been.
If you’re curious, The Americans is available on Amazon Prime’s video, and the final season is airing now on FX.
A couple things:
1. Shoveled snow today. In April. Some years Winter just doesn’t want to say goodbye. Admittedly, the snow is more palatable when you know it’s going to melt in a couple of days…
2. I’m finding that going for longer continuous dictating (30 minutes +) makes it easier to stay in scenes and character. Before, I tended to pause when scenes ended, but I’m trying to just keep going. Transition into the next bit and keep on talking. Thus far, it’s made things flow together more naturally, and I’m getting more done with less time.