“The Americans” returns tonight for the start of Season 3 on FX, and I’m right back in Ronald Reagan’s America with Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings.
After decades of writing about TV, it still pleasantly surprises me how I can lose track of a fine TV series after its season ends and then, after watching only a few seconds of the new season, be pleasurably transported back to its fictional universe. And it feels like I never left.
Some fast update without spoilers:
The pressure builds on Elizabeth and Philip to start socializing their 14-year-old daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), to becoming a “second generation” spy for the motherland. And Elizabeth and Philip don’t exactly agree on how to handle this.
Stan (Noah Emmerich) gets some news on Nina (Annet Mahendru) and some advice on living in the moment.
And Special Agent Gaad (Richard Thomas) gets a very bloody nose.
I have been trying to figure this series out for two years.
Part of the success involves some of the obvious elements of any winning TV production: strong writing, textured production values and outstanding acting.
The acting of Rhys and Russell is enhanced with the addition of Frank Langella as Gabriel, a KGB handler who comes out of retirement and pays them a visit in tonight’s episode. It’s a wonderful scene.
But it’s the cultural resonance that fascinates me. We have another spy series coming from NBC, “Allegiance,” which features a young CIA operative who funds out his parents and sister are part of a dormant Russian sleeper cell.
Could this be 12-year-old Henry Jennings (Keidrich Sellati) as a young adult? I’m kidding. But you can bet NBC wants that resonance as it tries to tap the cultural motherlode FX and “The Americans” has so richly mined.
Last year in a trend piece, I quoted all kinds of folks attributing our TV fascination with spies to everything from NSA spying on us to millennials (those born after 1980) living in an media ecosystem of unlimited sources of information but feeling that they can’t trust any of them.
They live in a digital echo chamber of rumors, trivia, phonies posing as experts and false information that is not properly corrected, clarified or retracted. Think Vox. I’m only half-kidding. Check out its recent correction on “Serial" if you think I am being harsh.
“The Americans” brilliantly speaks to the existential jitters of living in such confusing times without an informational compass.
But after watching the first four episodes of this season, I think it also speaks to many marriages of today.
For all the talk by politicians ranging from President Barack Obama to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan about how dedicated they are to helping “hard-working middle-class families,” it gets harder everyday financially to be one of those families.
There are scenes where Elizabeth and Philip are under such pressure and stress from their jobs that all they can do at the end of the day is try to buck each other up enough so they can go back out there tomorrow and do what has to be done for their family to survive.
Check out the scene tonight when Philip and Stan come in for a drink at the Jennings home and find Elizabeth standing at the kitchen sink with an ice bag on her shoulder and blood in the sink.
On a lighter note, the disguises Matthew and Elizabeth wear when they go about their jobs are still as amusingly bad as anything this side of what Frank Underwood wore when he did in Zoe Barnes on "House of Cards."
OK, one of Elizabeth's wigs is actually worse.
Welcome back to “The Americans” at 10 tonight on FX.