If there is one show on TV that is unparalleled in quality, it’s “The Americans.” No other show can take the same core principles—be they intimacy and relationships or the Cold War spy drama—and turn them over and over, finding new aspects to explore every time. It’s been a week since the season finale and I still can’t get this latest season out of my head.
Without spoiling too much, season 3 saw its leads Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, respectively) struggle to maintain their cover while also protect their family from outside sources, now including their employers the KGB.
“The Americans” isn’t inherently new territory. Heck, exploring the fabric of marital couples and the intimacy both in and outside of those relationships is the foundation of a massive bulk of pop culture. But in the constant turmoil of the show, coupled with “The Americans” writers’ commitment to building their universe on a slow-burn, creates a new facet, a fresh angle, and a new scar to heal from with every turn of the plot.
Too often I hear friends complain that they don’t like a show only because “it’s nothing new,” as if there’s nothing it could possibly offer aside from being a completely unique plot. Most sci-fi or “Game of Thrones” plotlines aren’t likely to be something you couldn’t find somewhere else in literature, but that doesn’t mean they can’t provide a fresh take.
The forest looks the same as any other show about a family of spies (if there are enough of those out there for this to be a legitimate analogy) but the trees are so rich that everything about it is enriched. “The Americans” builds on the knotty and overloaded lives of families (and spies) and turns it into some real insight into both (with “The Americans” it’s exactly the kind of show that’s so fascinating to share with people, while also making it a hard sell).
If you’re looking for a concept that’s not been done before you’ll be, as Bruno Mars says, locked out of pop culture heaven. Because so many of the best shows out there aren’t retreating into familiar territory, they’re building on it.