Viewers search for meaning in 'The Americans' amid renewed Russia-US tensions

The FX TV show 'The Americans' debuts its fifth season on March 7. The program focuses on Russian spies living in America during the 1980s.

Andy Kropa/Invision/AP
'The Americans' stars Keri Russell (l.) and actor Matthew Rhys (r.) attend a screening of 'The Americans' at PaleyFest: Made In NY on Oct. 4, 2013, in New York.

As the critically acclaimed FX drama “The Americans” returns for a new season on March 7, critics are noting the renewed relevance of the central storyline, which takes place in the early 1980s and follows Russian spies living in America.

Those roles are portrayed by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, both of whom were nominated for a Golden Globe this past January for their work on the show. In addition, the program was nominated at the 2016 Emmy Awards for best drama series and Mr. Rhys and Ms. Russell were nominated for best actor in a drama series and best actress in a drama series, respectively. 

The new season will be the show’s fifth (and second-to-last) and the program has been well-reviewed throughout its run. Now, though, critics are noting the program’s relation to today’s headlines as well. 

Does the program’s connection to contemporary news stories about Russia and the United States improve the show or detract from the viewing experience? 

New York Times writer James Poniewozik suggests the show’s relevance to the news could be a good thing if it draws more viewers to the show. “If television’s best drama finally gets the buzz it deserves because evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election served as viral marketing – well, as Comrade Trotsky once said, ‘The end may justify the means as long as there is something that justifies the end,’ ” Mr. Poniewozik writes.

However, Hollywood Reporter writer Tim Goodman says TV watchers should avoid connecting the dots when tuning in for “Americans.”

“[Showrunners Joe] Weisberg and [Joel] Fields have steadfastly written the show in the spirit and mood of the moment it takes place in – not with their eyes on the future to come,” Mr. Goodman writes. “It's what makes 'The Americans' real; they are not manipulating character actions based on the known outcome. They try very hard to create this fictional world, populate it with characters and play. That's pretty much it. To drag the Trump mess into the frame, as a viewer, is a disservice to the effort at hand and adds little to the viewing.”

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