I don’t post much about television, which is because I don’t watch much television, an hour a day is what I limit myself to. This is partly because television’s great strength is sports, football, tennis and athletics and I never watch sports; not interested in any of it. Incidentally, this is partly why I made no comment about Mohammad Ali when he died; he was a television sports star as far as I was concerned and I rarely watched him. Happy Valley back in March I think was the last and only post I have made about a TV programme.
The Americans, if you have never heard of it or don’t know what it is about is an American drama about two married Russian spies in Washington and what they get up to. It has a 99% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Here in the UK it isn’t popular at all and keeps getting moved around the schedules. Currently it is being shown in an 11.00pm late-night slot on an obscure commercial channel and is interrupted by advertising every approx. six minutes. So you have to be dedicated if you live in the UK.
Season one began in the late sixties I think when LBJ would have been President and we are up to around the very late seventies now, where it is Reagan and Gorbachev is about to appear. The soundtrack is Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Wonder [never Dylan] and the cars and clothes all look authentic. The acting is uniformly excellent, mainly character actors and people no-one has ever heard of although Frank Langella is in it and Margo Martindale starred in the previous season. They make good use of sub-titles. The Russians and they are real Russian actors and actresses speak Russian on screen when they talk amongst themselves. It constantly shows not tells. Why did she do that? What does that mean? That couldn’t happen; but then you find out much, much later that actually it didn’t happen; what is he up to? Not what you think, that’s for sure. God, I love it. I am on ep ten of 13 at the moment and what we have been waiting for for thirty-six episodes has just happened: their sensitive, intelligent and Christian teenage daughter Paige has just discovered that her parents are Russian spies. And just fifteen minutes later, Stan the stiff, divorced, sociopathic FBI man who lives across the road walks in for his dinner engagement, made only the previous afternoon.
And in another outstanding scene Paige’s mentor and Pastor calls by their town office unexpectedly, to ask them to book a trip to Kenya for their church through their front travel business. Then he starts whining, ‘You know, Paige isn’t a teenager anymore. She’s a young lady. Maybe you should cut her some slack. Why don’t you do this why don’t you do that . . .’ They film it all over Philip’s [our hero] shoulder sitting at his computer screen with the Pastor behind him. So we can see the Pastors grinning, manipulative face and we can also see Philip’s face. Jeez, it resonated with me, someone taking the moral high-ground in my own private space. Amazing writing.
Then there is Annet Mahendru; twenty-four year old Russian actress and very possibly the world’s most beautiful woman. She isn’t a spy exactly because she spies on other Russians. In last night’s episode she is trying to chat up a Soviet boffin to find out what his real thinking is. In the scene, he is sitting at a crude computer screen and she is standing close to him by his workstation, having just brought him a coffee and a pastry that he didn’t ask for and doesn’t want. There are maybe three lines of dialogue. Do they dress her in a tight-fitting t-shirt? Or a swimsuit? Plunging neckline at the very least? Nah, plain brown jacket and jeans. She doesn’t even smile at him; in fact she doesn’t even look at him just flutters her eyes a couple of times. What a scene. You couldn’t write it. Truly one of the outstanding moments of the entire Season 3.
Anyway, I could blab on forever about this outstanding show.
I am the only person I know who watches it and I don’t know why. This is the land of Pinter and Sally Wainwright and Mike Bartlett and David Hare, one might think there was something there for that audience.