Story Spotlight: The Americans – Joe Weisberg

This is a fantastic series in nearly every respect. The acting and character development go hand in hand and clearly lead the way with superb performances and nuanced arcs that seem wrought with love by all involved. The kids leave a little on the table when they’re on screen, but that’s to be expected of young actors, and these ones do a better job than most.

The plot is subtle and nuanced, not aiming too high but reaching for a greater level of realism through a more subdued tone. Daring capers are rare, and when they do occur, they take a more plausible approach than you might be used to in spy thrillers. Thus, methods of obtaining information (the show’s main activity) seem believable to this viewer who admittedly has no idea what spies really do. Still, this show’s approach seems more likely than most that I’ve seen.

Ah, but subtlety and nuance can backfire at times. My one disappointment in the show is that they don’t build tension like they could. Peripheral characters are at risk, but I’m not buying that any of the show’s main cast will ever leave until the series ends. Of course, this is how TV shows used to be, and I can understand that approach. But so much of the story’s attempted suspense revolves around whether the protagonist couple will get caught, and I rarely wonder if that might happen.

Another lost opportunity with tension has to do with the way the show manages a season’s acts. Each one has high points of course, but those often come at unusual times and in unusual ways with characters losing a touch of that sense of urgency while living their daily lives. When it happens, this leaves me feeling like The Americans is just a standard serial instead of the well-formed story arc that it is. A great example was the show’s fourth season. It had spectacular tone management throughout most of the episodes, making me believe that it had learned from previous mistakes. Then the final episode ended with the dad telling his daughter not to see her budding love interest anymore to a backdrop of suspenseful music. Sure, there was more going on in the spy world at the time, but it was such a bizarre ending to an otherwise great season and showcased how even a good story can end on a bad note, lowering its entertainment value.

Still, I can only remove a half star for that. As I said, a fantastic series in nearly every respect.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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