You know it’s weird times when at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the president was making headlines for congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on a victory in what’s been called a “sham” election, and elsewhere in Washington, multiple investigations were looking into the nefarious doings of our former Cold War enemy on our shores — and meanwhile, smack dab in the middle, there was a red-carpet screening of a TV show that was supposed to be just a stylish drama about 1980s Russian spycraft in the nation’s capital that feels … well, maybe just a little too close to home.
Joe Weisberg, the show’s creator and executive producer (and a former CIA officer, so he knows of what he writes), was strolling the gantlet of reporters and photographers lined up to capture the Tuesday night premiere of the sixth and final season of FX’s “The Americans,” and he was clearly not thrilled that his show’s carefully crafted story lines were colliding with chaotic cable-news chyrons.
“This,” he said of the prospect of running a show about Russian interference in the United States at the very moment when America is focused on Russian interference in the United States, “was not the plan.”
So what’s wrong with plot points that seem ripped from the headlines? Well, “The Americans” is supposed to be Reagan-era fiction, not Trumpian commentary. “Our fear is that the audience has that feeling that the show is being informed by the president, which, for us, breaks the authenticity of the show,” Weisberg said. “It breaks that dramatic idea that you’re living in the past, which we’ve worked very hard to create.”
Keri Russell, the actress who plays one half of the show’s Russian couple, agents posing as your typical Northern Virginia suburban couple, said the show offers an up-close portrait of the humans involved in spycraft — then and now. “It’s always good to be reminded of the people within a news story,” she said. But she also seemed glad that the show’s end, after a six-year run, meant no more comparisons to current events. “I’m glad we’re getting out now,” she said. “It’s a complicated time, so it’s good that it’s done.”
Actor Matthew Rhys, Russell’s on- and off-screen partner, noted that the show’s writers are at least seeing some silver lining in the fresh-again news topic. “I think in some ways, they feel vindicated, because some press in the first season questioned — even ridiculed — whether Russian interest in [the] U.S. was really relevant anymore,” he said. “So they’re going ‘told you!’ ”
So although “The Americans” won’t be on-air with new episodes, Noah Emmerich, who plays an FBI counterintelligence agent, suggested that the Trump-Putin-Mueller-Manafort cast will more than fill the void. “It feels like part of our show, but the extended run,” he said with a wry laugh of the real-life rival drama. “Maybe it’s the spinoff. It’s ‘The Americans, Part Two.’ ”
And it wouldn’t be a mash-up of a Washington-set show with real-life D.C. without some mixing of the two worlds. We spotted cast members across the Newseum lobby, which was filling up with staffers from Foggy Bottom and the Hill, apparently deep in conversation with a knot of lawmakers, including Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.).
Peters declared himself to be a big “Americans” fan — he works and reads, he says, on the long commute from his district to Washington but binge-watches the show on the flights home. Turns out “The Americans” might be instructive, even to a member of Congress. “It’s so interesting that the show is so much about protecting ourselves and how Russia is getting into our business,” Peters said. “And on a macro level, it raises concerns about whether we’re doing enough now, and the fear is that we’re not.”
Emmerich noted the novelty of the Hollywood-congressional parlay. “It’s like inverted reality — I’m used to watching them on TV, and now here I am talking to them,” he said. “And I guess they’re used to watching us on TV — so it’s a mirror.”