Filed in Articles & Interviews

‘The Americans’: FX Asks Viewers to Root for KGB in Cold War Thriller

Stars Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys and the spy drama’s EPs tell reporters enough time has passed to sympathize with Soviets — but are quick to point out that an al-Qaeda version would be “impossible.”

Briefly sidelined by Sandy, FX’s The Americans started production in New York in December and gets a speedy launch on the network later this month.

The thriller, which stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as embedded Soviet spies in 1981 Washington, DC, made an appearance during Wednesday’s Television Critics Association winter press tour — and producers were quick to emphasize who viewers should be rooting for.

“It might be a little different to believe and get used to, but we want you to root for the KGB,” said EP Joel Fields. “They’re going to try to get the Soviets to win the Cold War.”

History knows they’re fighting a losing battle, but the creative team behind the high-profile launch expressed a confidence that more than enough time has passed for American audiences to not hold a grudge.

“If you tried to tell a story like this about al-Qaeda now, it would be impossible; no one would want to hear it,” Fields continued. “I feel even the same could have been said up to 10 years after the cold war ended.”

But this isn’t Homeland. Though the Showtime hit went oddly unmentioned during the discussion, the similar theme of covert ops takes a backseat to the odd, forced family dynamic of two Russian spies raising their in-the-dark children as Americans.

“The show is about marriage and that marriage in an allegory for international relations,” said creator Joe Weisberg. “And international relations are an allegory for marriage.”

Speaking of the show’s tricky time period aesthetics, producers made more than a few jokes about Russell’s high-waisted jeans and defended their musical choices — particularly one steamy scene that used Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.”

Though the track is synonymous with a similar moment in Risky Business, they called it “perfect for that time.”

Less superficial matters of the time will also play a big part of the show. Fields pointed out that the attempted assassination on President Ronald Reagan will come early in the series and will be a “big event” in the lives of the characters.

As a closing pitch to root for the bad guy protagonists, Weisberg said he wanted viewers to take a hard look at both sides of the Cold War.

“These were these really competing value systems,” he said. “And there’s no question that repressive socialism failed, but unbridled consumption hasn’t exactly led to great satisfaction — and one problem is how do we express that dramatically.”