Squawk-Off: Our Love Affair With ‘The Americans’ KGB Spy Couple

Keri Russell and Matthew Rys play KGB spies in FX’s “The Americans.” (Photo credit: The Americans/Facebook)

The recent annexation of Crimea from Ukraine to Russia, including predictions of a Cold War sequel from the talking heads that proliferate in mainstream media, has once again pit the United States, and frankly, all of the West, against Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Putin, the Russian prime minister-turned-president-turned prime minister-turned-psuedo-president-dictator (his current position), took a risky gamble recently when he commanded Russian forces to invade Crimea after protesters drove Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, out of office. His ouster became official when the Ukrainian parliament voted Yanukovych out—a political move that capped several months of ferocious protests by emboldened demonstrators. Several days later, Putin countered by sending soldiers into Crimea, followed by a full-court press that culminated in a one-sided vote by Crimea to secede from Ukraine.

The United States and other countries condemned the vote and have emphatically stated that they will not recognize Crimea’s secession. The way they see it, the embattled peninsula is still part of Ukraine.

With the rhetoric between America and its former Cold War foes ratcheting up, CNN earlier this month released a poll that discovered 69 percent of Americans see Russia as a threat to the United States.

“That’s a 25-percentage point increase since 2012 and represents the highest number on that question since the break-up of the Soviet Union,” according to CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

Nobody would be surprised if that number ticks up in coming days and weeks.

The purported rekindling of the US-Russia tug-of-war, however, will probably do little to change who viewers of FX’s critically-acclaimed Cold War thriller, The Americans, are rooting for—despite the politically-charged rhetoric circulating from both sides.

The show stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rys as KGB spies who infiltrated the US early on in their adult life following an arranged marriage instigated by their KBG bosses. Their mission was to blend in and develop American customs. Soon, as per orders from “The Center,” the couple started a family, expediting their journey toward the American Dream. Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, as they’re known in the show, have two kids, live in a suburban neighborhood outside Washington D.C., eat breakfast together with their school-age children nearly every morning, run a travel agency, and bicker.

Inside the walls of their home they’re a normal, albeit not-so-boring, American family.

However, the Jennings have been trained to hate America, love “The Motherland” and trust no one—except themselves.

Yet, we can’t help but cheer them on, even more so when (wait for it…) a seasoned FBI agent (Stan Beeman; played by Noah Emmerich) whose job it is to hunt Soviet spies, moves in next door. So they did what any boring old American family would do—they greet them with smiles and innocent pleasantries.

Rooting for the bad guys is hardly a new concept in modern day American television. But this accomplishment is quite impressive considering this nation’s past—and present—relationship with Russia.

Keri Russell plays Elizabeth Jennings in "The Americans." (Photo credit: The Americans/Facebook)
Keri Russell plays Elizabeth Jennings in “The Americans.” (Photo credit: The Americans/Facebook)

And it was all intentional.

“It might be a littler different to believe and get used to, but we want you to root for the KGB,” the show’s executive producer, Joel Fields, told The Hollywood Reporter last year. “They’re going to try to get the Soviets to win the Cold War.”

Apparently time does heal all wounds, which could explain our appreciation for Elizabeth and Phil despite their murderous and covert misdeeds.

Fields, in his interview with THR, explains it this way:

If you tried to tell a story like this about al-Qaeda now, it would be impossible; no one would want to her it. I feel even the same could have been said up to years after the Cold War ended.

Perhaps the intrigue has more to do with the Jennings’ internal struggles as a couple, which was contrived but eventually blossoms into something romantic and real (if donning a wig and seducing your targets is how you’d like to spend your Friday nights), more so than their incredibly dangerous full-time jobs as KGB operatives.

And when another KBG couple is gunned down along with their daughter in a hotel in Season 2, we feel the emotions pouring out of Elizabeth and Phillip, who at their core are parents and want to ensure that gruesome fate is not in their children’s future. Their American children.

So we’ll cheer them on, despite the tumultuous past, murky present and uncertain future.