My NPR adventure: What FX's The Americans says about how little we fear Russian spies, anymore
As a TV critic, I've watched and praised series centered on serial killers, murderous mobsters, biker gangs and the biggest meth dealer in Alberquerque, N.M.
But I've never seen a set of antiheroes quite like the couple at the heart of FX's The Americans -- a new drama debuting at 10 tonight about two Soviet spies who have lived covertly as an American family for more than 15 years.
Set in 1981, the series stars Felicity alum Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings; co-owner of a travel agency by day, she's a loyal daughter of Mother Russia by night, kidnapping defectors, planting listening devices in the homes of U.S. officials and collecting as much information as possible on the Great Satan, America.
This show works hard to make you sympathize with characters who have been the villains in countless TV shows and movies over the years. When they consider killing a defector they've captured, viewers learn he's committed an awful crime worthy of the worst penalty. Pushed to get information on a U.S. official, they agonize over a plot where they threaten the life of a maid's son to force her into helping their cause.
What struck me, was that a series like this would not have been possible during the time it takes place. Less than 30 years ago, our paranoia about the ability of the Soviet Union to bury the United States would have made it impossible for us to see such characters sympathetically.
So I put together a commentary for NPR looking at what The Americans' debut on cable TV says about our Cold War fears, and what really scares Americans today.
Check it out below: