“The Americans”

For my last blog post, I wanted to write about a TV show that has been airing for a couple of years now. The show is called The Americans, the plot is about two KGB spies living in the US undercover, spying for the Soviet Union, and the difficulties they face in their day to day lives. I just started this show recently and was excited when I saw we might have the chance to get to this time period in Russian history in class. The show depicts the spies during the height of the Cold War, and is based on the Illegals Program, which was an FBI investigation of multiple Russian SVR spies living undercover here in the US. The investigation led to the arrest of 10 Russian spies in 2010.


The show’s director, Joe Weisburg, is a former CIA operative. He had a very short career with the CIA, but after he got out he began writing. He stated that many of his ideas for the show came from his training from the CIA and discussing stories with other spies who lived abroad with their families. In an interview with DirecTV, he stated, “I was in the CIA in the early 90s, so a lot of the tradecraft and espionage type stuff that’s in this show is based on stuff that I learned at the CIA. The tradecraft is period. So the dead drops and the communications protocols and the way that the agents are handled is all based on the training that I received rather than how things are done today . . . I never served abroad but I worked side-by-side with people who did and I was struck by a lot of things including their stories about what it was like to live and serve with a family and spy abroad. Particularly, I was very moved by what it was like to raise kids while not telling the kids what you really did. And then, to sit down with those kids one day as teenagers and have what was called ‘The Talk’ with them and tell them what mom or dad really did for a living because they were finally old enough to keep a secret. I was very interested in bringing that to TV – the idea of a family of spies, not just a single spy” (Weisburg).

The show is immediately captivating. Right away the viewers are introduced to the main characters and their true identities. An article by the theguardian.com explains the plot perfectly, “the premise is dynamite. In the 80s, Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) pose as travel agents living outside Washington DC, but they’re really Russian spies who have been deeply integrated into the community. We see not only their daring missions to save the motherland and destroy imperialism during the height of the cold war, but also their struggles with their relationship, their family and their belief in a cause that no longer directly applies to their lifestyle” (theguardian.com). The show also offers an interesting perspective, as you find yourself rooting for the main characters, but then you remember they’re actually the bad guys. It is an interesting point of view, especially for such a crucial point in US history.


The show also gives a good perspective as to what was going on during the Cold War for spies. The Cold War was not a conventional war fought by the military, it was a secretive and strategic battle fought by the intelligence agencies of the US and the Soviet Union. And the show really sheds light on the difficulties posed for both sides, especially for the US on the home-front. We were heavily penetrated by the Soviets during the Cold War, and the show really exposes the audience to that. Obviously no show or movie is without some Hollywood influence, but the premise of the show and the events carried out during the show certainly offer some evidence as to what the War was like for intelligence agencies involved.

If you haven’t seen the show, take a look at the trailer for the first season!





DIRECTV Interview: <em>The Americans</em> Masterminds Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields

16 thoughts on ““The Americans”

  1. The Americans is a really good show. It does a great job of really showing modern America and our generation what it was like to live during the Cold War and the fear that was prevalent during this time. Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is an excellent show that does provide a unique perspective on the lives of Soviet spies in America. Instead of the “evil secret agent” stereotype, the show depicts a normal couple with an honorable allegiance to the motherland. Nice post!

  3. I haven’t actually watched this show but I have heard great things about it. Clearly the development team did their research on it considering the quote from the creator of the show. I may start watching it now!

  4. This was a really interesting post! I see this show advertised all the time and may have to start watching this now. There have multiple movies released here recently focusing on the Cold War and especially spies within the war such as Bridge of Spies and Man From U.N.C.L.E. I think it is very interesting to see how the Cold War really was more of an informational war. Great post!

  5. This show seems really interesting! What a crazy, paranoid time it must have been to live in the Cold War Era. This show reminds me of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. The museum has a section dedicated to the spies that were caught in the United States during the Cold War. One fact I learned while visiting was that during the Cold War 1 in every 100 people in DC was a spy! People had to be careful who they trusted!

  6. Great post! I really like this show and have enjoyed the new season so far. I also enjoyed the background you provided about the writer of the show and his past in the CIA. It is hard to fathom the possibility of spies as your neighbor!

  7. LOVE the Americans!!!! And I’m so glad you wrote about the show. Since we’re talking about what we like I’ll throw in my several cents here: 1) the authentic / “vintage” feel — the attention to detail, both in the representation of trade craft and 80s society. 2) The fact the Soviet spies are generally much more sympathetic than the FBI agents. 3) how complicated and extreme Elizabeth’s character is 4) how much more interesting the kids are than on other shows in this genre — would you rather talk to Paige or Brady’s kid in Homeland (forgot her name….).
    What a way to end the semester – thanks Patrick!

  8. This is an awesome post! It’s even more interesting to me because our last topic in my CIA class is about these Soviet spies here in the United States during the Cold War (specifically those who were moles within the CIA reporting back to the Soviet Union). I’m going to have to start watching this show now….

  9. Patrick, I really loved reading about your blog post on the show, “The Americans.” It is actually one of my favorite shows on right now and I really enjoy watching it. I had no clue that the director was actually a former CIA operative and find that so interesting. It’s so cool to think that a lot of what we see in the show is based on the training he received so it’s similar to how it would have been in real life back then. I think the show really highlights the fear that was going on between our two countries during this time really well. Great post!

  10. You’ve sold me on this show. I’m also taking a CIA class, and our final unit is on counterintelligence (efforts by an intelligence agency to prevent enemy spying/turn these spies against their employers). This seems like a really interesting show to showcase that.

  11. I’m really glad you all liked the post. The show is definitely a unique one. I am actually not caught up, so I’m looking forward to catching up to the current season. The show’s ratings have been relatively low, and at risk of being cancelled. So if you are actually interested, definitely check it out! I also saw some of you are taking the CIA class here at school, phenomenal class by the way! But if you’re interested in intelligence, counterterrorism, or espionage, this show is for you! As Dr. Nelson said, it is not only a phenomenal show, but the character development is incredibly intriguing.

  12. Great post! I personally haven’t seen the show, but I have heard great things about it. I liked how you tied our class in with the show and gave a great quote from the director of the show as well. I honestly didn’t know he was part of the CIA. Also, thanks for the trailer! The show looks fantastic and may start it this summer.

  13. I had no idea that the director was in the CIA! It makes this show better just by having an insider on everything. Great post!

  14. Great post! I’ve heard of the show, in fact my mom is a fan, so I’m definitely adding it to my list for this summer. I love linking anything from my history classes to pop culture so this post was right up my alley. It’s really cool that the director is former CIA, that makes me think this show must really be great and quite factual.

  15. I really liked your post. The show sounds very interesting and I might start watching. I think the thing that struck me the most about you post was the family spying part. The talk where you tell your kids that your’e really a spy most be one of the most intense conversations that you would probably have in your life, defiantly theirs. I can’t imagine what would happen if the kids didn’t like what they heard and they wanted to tell the government. What would you do then?

  16. I have watched this show before and it shows how much different our society is from the way it was back when the show was set. It is so different to see that an entire family was involved in the spying and secrecy because usually in our culture today we try and avoid bringing children and younger members of the family into these matters.

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