There may be many reasons to either watch tonight’s second season premiere episode of The Americans (if you were lucky enough to experience season one last winter) or to make the sound and enlightened investment to DVR tonight and catch up on season one over the next several weeks through an iTunes or an Amazon Prime purchase, but there is really only one definitive source to find out exactly why you should. Mr. Andy Greenwald, Grantland’s extraordinary television commentator, conveys his sentiments on The Americans with such eloquence, such insightful passion, and such beautiful prose. This is a master writing about a masterful show and I can only aspire to both of their collective standards of excellence.
His summation at the end best conveys an already realized central conceit – The Americans is a great television show and deserves a look:
“Nothing else on TV can match The Americans for the dizzying highs of its suspense or the unsettling depths of its emotion. But the reason it’s become the best show on television is more simple: In spite of its radical premise and perilous plots, the most discomfiting aspect of The Americans is its familiarity. All long-term relationships, whether between nation-states or lovers, involve delicate negotiations. They all demand loyalty. And they all require sacrifice. Recognizing this doesn’t make us American. It makes us human. The glorious struggle is our own.” Amen.
To summarize: Watch The Americans. Read Andy Greenwald. You will be the better because of it.
The Americans airs Wednesday nights at 10:00 PM on FX. Andy Greenwald is a staff writer for Grantland.
I needed a break. The last time I sat down to write my weekly reflection of The Following was over three weeks ago and I hoped that taking some time off would allow me to come back to the show (DVR storage was a friend) with a fresh perspective and maybe even a new found appreciation. This morning I binge watched the last three episodes – “Welcome Home”, “Love Hurts”, and “Guilt” – to see if the wild world of Joe Carroll’s cult had evolved into something worth salvaging. I discovered that the tension and its relatively well-executed escalation is still there, the curse of Ryan Hardy (don’t get too close or you will be in danger!) is going strong, and characters still make decisions that are based on actions that have little connection to any real world application of logic. This flawed, problem-ridden serialized saga remains a viewing conundrum of sorts. It pulls you in enough with some snappy narratives and effective pacing while keeping you a spear gun’s distance away with a premise that all seems so silly. As pages are turned in each new cult member’s chapter (Marin Ireland’s Amanda Porter was particularly annoying in “Love Hurts”), I just want to get to the end of the book already!
With five episodes left before season 1 bows its ugly head for a summer hibernation, my commitment hangs on a loose thread, or as I like to call it, every storyline introduced on this show. I have spent too much time with the Carroll/Matthews/Hardy clan to leave now, but if circumstances and the influx of some great television returns reduce my viewing time bandwidth, tears will I not shed.
For now, The Following is on a belabored final lap with some important (a relative term) narrative resets to be aware of…
- Claire Matthews endured one too many abduction attempts and finally allowed her would be captors (this week it is Roderick himself accompanied by some weapons expert who conveniently belonged to a constitutionalist militia as a youth) to take her to Joe and to her (completely bored at this point) son, Joey. For the first time next week, the Carroll/Matthews family will all be under one roof.
- We finally (I was hoping we could forget about them completely) revisited Jacob and a very wounded Paul who took refuge at a rustic retreat owned by Jacob’s folks. Jacob’s mom finds Emma’s abandoned lovers playing doctor (or at least desperately needing one) and suggests a hospital before daddy comes home and calls the police (Jacob’s mom is played by Jayne Atkinson on a break from diplomatic duties on House of Cards). Jacob (“I have never killed anyone, mom!”) decides that suffocating Paul is the way to start when Roderick’s command center receives his secret email SOS signal and mobilizes the rescue party for his return to Carrolland headquarters. Jacob arrives there with some very angry feelings toward Emma (she did kind of did leave him for slaughter). Our momentary celebration that Paul is finally gone is curtailed by Jacob’s lifelike Paul hallucinations (Adan Canto, don’t you have some other acting work to ruin scenes in?) that are just a nuisance to all (especially this humble viewer).
- Ryan’s investigative unit is in all kinds of shambles, Mike Weston was pretty badly beat up and is probably filming the new X-Men so is off the grid (but will make a full recovery), Annie Parisse feels badly about failing her original task force and now must babysit Ryan, and new Chief Nick Donovan seems as incompetent (at least Hardy thinks so) as his forbearers.
- As for Ryan, he outs his best friend from witness protection in order to conceal Claire (she left anyway) resulting in some bullet wounds to the chest for his buddy, reciprocates Claire’s “I love you” (she left anyway), and is now set up for a presumed final showdown with his arch nemesis and a rescue attempt of his damsel who in many ways is choosing distress.
The silver lining in all of this: The Following is very low on my television watching totem pole. Here are some quick thoughts on what really matters and what I recommend you check out…
- The 28th season of The Real World (Portland!) starts tonight and in recent weeks, Real World love has been spread all over the media world. Last weekend, MTV aired retro MTV marathons of three seasons of the reality tv pioneer (the first season in New York, Las Vegas, and the most significant and best season of all-time, San Francisco). Twitter activity was unheralded and Real World talk (and subsequently momentum heading into tonight) is all the rage. Vulture even disseminated a ranking of all the seasons that is wonderful for its existence, but is immediately unreliable for placing London in seventh place.
- If you haven’t been watching The Americans on FX, you haven’t been watching the best drama (at least until Game of Thrones and then Mad Men return in the coming weeks) currently airing on television. This delicious plate of Cold War period espionage set against KGB family drama keeps getting better each week. Watching Keri Russell dive into her 1980s mom jeans as a Russian spy is an embarrassment of TV viewing riches. She is a revelation.
- I also strongly recommend Jane Campion’s miniseries (currently on iTunes or weekly on the Sundance Channel) Top of the Lake starring a wonderfully cast Elisabeth Moss showing an incredible range and such a clear distinction from her near iconic portrayal of Peggy Olson on Mad Men. I am only two episodes in (there are going to be five), but this mystery set in a beautifully shot world of remote New Zealand gets under your skin with its potency of subject, character, and atmospheric delivery. It is everything The Killing could have been if it had had a charismatic lead character, a competent writing staff, and sound leadership (I am looking at you Veena Sud).
- Over the course of three days (it was closer to two) last week, I finally found the time to binge on the thirteen episodes of season 1 of House of Cards on Netflix. The experience was wholly unique because for the first time I was binge watching something that was not originally released or intended for week by week consumption. I am not sure what to think and am especially unsure of how I will ultimately remember the experience, but I can say that I struggled deciding when to take a break (episodes lead so expertly and effortlessly into the next). David Fincher directed episodes one and two, but his influence on style and substance was acutely felt throughout. It is a taut political thriller that brilliantly leads the viewer through a web of power and destruction at such an incredible and engrossing pace. The entire ensemble of actors is outstanding, particularly Corey Stoll as an ambitious congressmen with some major demons and Robin Wright as Kevin Spacey’s elegant and commanding wife and partner in political aspiration.
- Finally, Season 3 of Game of Thrones begins on March 31 and Season 6 of Mad Men begins on April 7 and let’s just say the anticipation and the excitement is real. Sunday nights will be booked for the foreseeable future.
Following The Following may be a chore of sorts, but thankfully it barely dilutes the current and upcoming spring TV waters. Dive in and trust me that it will be warmer than you think.
David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.