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kottke.org posts about The Americans

The Americans is over, The Americans was great.

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2018

Given the recent Netflix-driven Cambrian explosion in television shows, there is no Best Show On TV™ anymore. But over the past few years, even with so many other excellent shows to choose from, The Americans had a legitimate claim to that title. In his review of last night’s final show (spoilers ahoy!), Alan Sepinwall nails what made the show so compelling to me:

Priority-wise, The Americans has always been a show about marriage that used the spycraft to heighten the stakes, rather than an espionage drama that used the family material to make Philip and Elizabeth more relatable. Its chief interest was in the compromises necessary to make any long-term relationship work, about the disagreements every pair of spouses will have about career and parenting and everything else. The assassinations, honeypots, and Stan’s investigations provided narrative propulsion and suspense, and Soviet ideology was at the heart of every choice Elizabeth made, particularly when it came to Paige, but all of that was thematically secondary to husband/wife and parent/child issues.

As I noted in my recent media diet post, their final season has been very strong, and the series finale held true to the show’s focus on family in an unexpectedly quiet and powerful way.

Could the series have ended with some combination of Jenningses killed or behind bars for life? Certainly, and it wouldn’t have rang false if it had happened. But the fact that the finale’s tragedies are all small-scale and family-related — Elizabeth and Philip abandon one child and are abandoned by the other, Stan learns that his best friend has been betraying him for years, and that his wife may be betraying him in the same way — feels in keeping with all that we’ve seen before.

I loved the finale — Stan’s devastation in particular ruined me…I’m going to be thinking about that for a long while — and Sepinwall’s recap is typically great. He also interviewed the show’s creators about the episode, who maddeningly (but correctly, I grudgingly have to admit) won’t spill the beans on what happens to any of the characters after the events of the show. Other recaps: NY Times, Vulture, AV Club.

If you want to catch up, all six seasons of The Americans are available on Amazon (1-5 are Prime, 6 isn’t yet).

Fashion inspiration boards for Philip & Elizabeth’s 1980s disguises on The Americans

posted by Jason Kottke   May 23, 2017

The FX show The Americans follows a married couple, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, who are Soviet spies living in America during the 1980s. In the course of their spying activities, the KBG couple often don disguises to protect their identities. Costume designer Katie Irish is responsible for dressing the couple on the show, and she’s been sharing some of the fashion inspiration boards for those disguises (as well as other costumes) on her Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

The Americans Bioboards

As you can see, Irish and her team pull images from anywhere: TV, movies, catalogs, photojournalism, yearbooks, advertising, etc. The goal is authenticity:

The point is to use clothes to embody the characters and bring them to life in a way that lets audiences believe in and feel invested in them. The show’s leads, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, are characters who live their lives in costume, in a sense. They dress like the upper-middle-class travel agents that they have embodied for years, but there are subtle hints at their internal selves, as ideologically driven Russian spies. “They’re Russian at the core,” Irish explains, “and they don’t want anything that is overtly capitalist.” You won’t see much logo branding on their clothes.

P.S. I’ve been waiting for someone to make a supercut video of all of the Jennings’ disguises, but it hasn’t happened yet. Am I going to have to do it myself?

The Americans vs. The Beastie Boys

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2017

Some genius took footage from The Americans and cut it into an alternative music video for The Beastie Boys Sabotage. Compare with the real thing:

Pretty good! Plus it’s always great to hear that song. (thx, steve)

Trailer for the The Americans season five

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 08, 2017

The official trailer for season five of The Americans is out and oooooooooh boy! I’m currently bingeing on The Night Manager and I love me some Halt and Catch Fire, but The Americans is my favorite pure-drama show1 right now. The actress who plays Paige is great and it looks like she’s going to be more involved in the plot than ever:

Look at her! Learning how to fight and reading Karl Marx! Oh, I can’t wait until March 7th! If you haven’t been following the show, all four of the previous seasons are available on Amazon Prime. I might have to rewatch!

  1. Transparent is still my overall favorite show…but who knows how you’re supposed to classify it. Sitcom drama?

The centripetal force of life

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2015

I don’t quite know what I’m doing to myself these days. Last night was an episode of The Americans in which a marriage was ending, another family was trying to keep itself intact, and a young boy struggles to move on after his entire family dies. This morning, I watched an episode of Mad Men in which a mother tries to reconcile her differences with her daughter in the face of impending separation. And then, the absolute cake topper, a story by Matthew Teague that absolutely wrecked me. It’s about his cancer-stricken wife and the friend who comes and rescues an entire family, which is perhaps the truest and most direct thing I’ve ever read about cancer and death and love and friendship.

Since we had met, when she was still a teenager, I had loved her with my whole self. Only now can I look back on the fullness of our affection; at the time I could see nothing but one wound at a time, a hole the size of a dime, into which I needed to pack a fistful of material. Love wasn’t something I felt anymore. It was just something I did. When I finished, I would lie next to her and use sterile cotton balls to soak up her tears. When she finally slept, I would slip out of bed and go into our closet, the most isolated room in the house. Inside, I would wrap a blanket around my head, stuff it into my mouth, lie down and bury my head in a pile of dirty clothes, and scream.

There are very specific parts of all those stories that I identify with. I struggle with friendship. And with family. I worry about my children, about my relationships with them. I worry about being a good parent, about being a good parenting partner with their mom. How much of me do I really want to impart to them? I want them to be better than me, but I can’t tell them or show them how to do that because I’m me. I took my best shot at being better and me is all I came up with. What if I’m just giving them the bad parts, without even realizing it? God, this is way too much for a Monday.