Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Under the Radar Television

                FX is a channel that I have gained more respect for over the recent years.  The shows it has are usually as well thought out as any on premium television and it has simply become a network known for trusting showrunners to do their thing and just create really good TV.  Such was the case with the show Louie, through which the network lays claim to the guy many agree is America’s funniest of the moment, Louis CK.  They have for a long time had the cult favorite It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and even shows which I’ve seen almost none of, such as Justified, but from everything I have heard and seen of them are also really good.  But my favorite at this point has to be The Americans.
                The title was the first thing that appealed to me.  It summons a jingoistic part of me, which, as I started watching, was quickly leveraged me to root for the main couple, who feel as strong of feelings for their country as I and a large chunk of us felt, say, just after 9/11.  And while the commercials for the show pressed onto your cerebral cortex with visual stimulation and even the opening credits built a fantastic fast-paced montage of Soviet and American images juxtaposed, the scenery in the show (save the people) seemed purposefully dull.  That also juxtaposed nicely with how fine-tuned and fast-paced the plot and character development became.
                The first season was exceedingly tight, and bore itself like a show already hitting its prime.  They weren’t afraid to dispatch or scale back the roles of certain characters.  And everything about the backstabbing, camaraderie and intrigue made me want to have participated in an era that I only lived during about four years of.[i]  There is a good amount of action and suspense, as well as misunderstandings and screw-ups that add to the authenticity of the show.  Some of the most dastardly things these people do aren’t even physically violent.  Philip (the husband), has his alter-ego Clark marry the secretary at his neighbor’s FBI division, who he has convinced he’s an Internal Affairs investigator, so that he can continue to use her as his informant.
                What strikes me about it too, that brings special appeal to me, is the magnitude of how serial it is.  So much so, that I can’t really tell you what has happened episode to episode, but more just over the course of one season of another.  As I’m starting to figure out some of the beats of shows, I start to see where they head sometimes.  Since the end of last season, Philip and Elizabeth’s oldest, Paige, has started to stop trusting her parents.  Earlier this season, it led to a fantasticly awkward encounter in her parents’ bedroom at night.  But as a parallel of their relationship with her, the couple has had to deal with the aftermath of a massacre which left their best friends’ oldest an orphan.  This all seems to be pointing to a watershed moment where Paige either learns the truth or is told it.  And while the show has in no way been predictable, this event would actually contradict one of the central tenants of the show.  But I also think it would strengthen the Jennings’ as a family and the Philip and Elizabeth’s identity as both a couple and operating partners.
The season finale a couple weeks ago also did not disappoint.  At the risk of spoiling too much, I’ll just say that this show has an uncanny ability to bring everything full circle, both in respect to themes addressed throughout the season as well as the collision courses of certain characters. There are very few wasted scenes or characters, and while there is no giant cliff-hanger ending, it’s clear we are in for so much more in coming seasons.
What appeals to me in this tv show as much as anything, is what it really gives me of the 80’s.  Since I mostly see that decade from the perspective of what music and movies we get from them, there is very little more appealing to me about it than the Cold War.  But they do a good job of showing how bland I think we all truly understand it was, and maintaining the distinct J’ ne se quoi of the decade.  The little I remember of it from my own life is a lot of beige.  I remember boxy cars and I wish I remembered more sweaters.  Sooo many sweaters…  Fashion-wise, it’s not better than the sixties, of course.  But when viewed through the espionage side, it’s way more fun.  Just as espionage without as much technology as today is itself way more fun.

[i] Although even as late as ’95-’96 (which I remember most of), I think there were enough leftover feelings and suspicion around the country, and from my parents more specifically, that I probably got a little taste of it.