'The Americans' dresses TV family drama in KGB disguise

Fri Mar 14, 2014 9:08am EDT
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By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As a former CIA agent in training, Joe Weisberg knows a moral dilemma when he sees it.

But instead of pressing on the weaknesses of would-be informants, Weisberg now writes them into the characters of his Cold War spy drama "The Americans," which is currently in its second season on U.S. cable network FX.

Like many of today's cable dramas, the series takes its shape from anti-heroes with serious flaws. But "The Americans" poses a unique reversal of U.S. television convention as Soviet KGB agents take a turn as the protagonists trying to get a leg up on their Cold War adversaries.

Although the fictional series is set in the 1980s, the recent spate of feuds between the United States and Russia gives it a current-day relevance. The political upheaval in Ukraine, Russian asylum for NSA contractor turned leaker Edward Snowden and recent conflicts in the Middle East have all brought back a bilateral diplomatic chill reminiscent of the Cold War era.

But at its heart, "The Americans" is less about cloak and dagger tales and politics than a domestic drama that uses lies, spooks and love to face down moral quandaries.

"The show is conceptually about what it is to be an enemy and have an enemy, and how to think about enemies," Weisberg said alongside fellow executive producer and writer Joel Fields, who added that they wanted "The Americans" to focus on the characters' interior lives.

The series stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, Soviet spies paired together by their bosses in an arranged marriage and sent to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. to raise a family and run a local travel agency as their cover.

The Jennings' neighbor, who happens to be an FBI agent working in counter-intelligence, believes he is having an steamy affair with a mole at the Soviet Embassy, but who is in fact is playing him as well.   Continued...

Cast members Keri Russell (L), Matthew Rhys and Noah Emmerich (R) of drama series "The Americans" participate in a panel during FX Networks' part of the Television Critics Association (TCA) Winter 2014 presentations in Pasadena, California, January 14, 2014. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian