This isn’t going to be like ‘Scarecrow and Mrs King, is it?’ That’s a question you could be asking yourself if you tune in randomly into ‘The Americans’ (RTE2)…but that’s only one side to the retro-fitted ‘spies in our midst’ prime-time drama, taking the ‘Illegals Program’ (remember FSB Hotty Anna Chapman?) and turning it back to the 1980s. However that not-too-good Bruce Boxleitner/Kate Jackson cheese-fest is only one reference point – there’s touches of Sopranos-style violence and some neat working in of real people into actual events e.g. Caspar Weinberger, Reagan’s Defence Secretary ‘hawk’ features in one of the episodes alongside former British Minister for Defence John Nott (a person that political nerds will recall getting up and leaving a ‘live’ television interview after being rudely questioned by Sir Robin Day).
The scriptwriter, Joe Weisberg, used to work for the CIA so we can presume he has some good inside knowledge of tradecraft applied in the Cold War shenanigans between the ‘The Company’ and the KGB. Anyhoo, the premise isn’t bad at all – Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are a ‘planted’ husband and wife, bringing up a family and apparently All-American, except they’re not, they take their orders from Moscow. Rhys and Russell are particularly good at conveying the tensions of this double life. Washington DC looks great as a backdrop for espionage but viewers should note, this isn’t Le Carre territory – there’s more glamour, less subtlety. Still, a welcome change from the usual high-concept commission fodder – worth catching up with on ‘Player’, not outstanding but a possible ‘sleeper’ hit.