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How THE AMERICANS Keeps Current Events From Clouding the Cold War Drama

There’s no question that in our present political climate, The Americans is more topical than ever. But executive producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields prefer to keep their critically acclaimed FX drama as separate as they can from today’s news so as to preserve its period nature.

“We try to stay in a bubble because we don’t want anybody to ever feel the people doing this show were watching current events. You can’t do that with a period show. If it were a current show, then we could let them all in, but in a period show it has to feel totally separate,” Weisberg told a small group of reporters following a panel for season five at the Television Critics Association 2017 winter press tour.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t continue to see parallels between the Jennings’ ’80s and today. “The show being what the show is about, it’s in automatically,” he said, adding that there wasn’t really any prescience on his part when he created the series. “All the operations they’re being accused of running are operations we’ve been running on the show. That’s through no effort or genius of ours, that’s just if you do a show about Russian espionage and it’s in the news, it’s in your show.”

Naturally, though, it does feel a little bit satisfying to know that their work is extra-topical. “There’s something in a twisted way that’s kind of fun about seeing all this stuff in the headlines that we’re trafficking in all the time—in a very twisted way,” Weisberg said on the panel, “but on the other hand, as you all recall from when we sat here [at our first panel] many years ago, the initial idea of the show was really to say, ‘Hey, look, these people who we think of enemies are really just like us.’ That was a more peaceful time in U.S.-Russian relations and to see things have spiraled so out of control frankly just doesn’t feel so good.”


But the lessons in The Americans aren’t necessarily specifically about Russia. “It seems like what we were saying within the show may be more specifically relevant with regards to Russia, but that [is] coincidental because we thought we were saying it just with regards to a generic enemy,” Weisberg said later, “and how important it is to remember that our enemies are human, and that those cultures we believe are out to get us somehow are comprised of human beings who aren’t that different than we are, whether or not we agree with them. And it’s surprising to find that that’s people from Russia again, but that lives in the show as it is in the ’80s as it did before any of this happened.”

While the showrunners have been told that President Obama watches the show, they haven’t heard if President-Elect Donald Trump or Vladmir Putin have seen it. “But they can feel free to let us know if they’ve been watching and enjoying, that would be super cool too,” Fields said.

Speaking of the PEOTUS, he was a public figure in the 1980s—but don’t expect to see any old news footage of him on The Americans. “Ironically, if Donald Trump hadn’t become…the president-elect and soon-to-be president, we might’ve been able to do that,” Fields said. “Now, I can’t imagine—we can’t imagine—any way of doing that that wouldn’t seem absurdly self-conscious.”

But here’s what we will see in season five, which premieres March 7. The first episode introduces Elizabeth and Philip’s latest disguises, revisits Philip’s son, checks in on Oleg back in Russia, and gives plenty of insight into Paige’s journey as she grapples with the fact that her parents are Russian spies. And poor, neglected Henry gets a storyline this year too!

“We feel we’ve got a good Henry story cooking. After many years of being asked, ‘What about Henry? Why [aren’t you] doing anything with Henry, you idiots?’ And we always say we love Henry but the problem is more about finding space, and we found a little bit more space for Henry this year,” Weisberg said after the panel.

As for Paige, Holly Taylor says that her character’s journey might not see her become an operative any time soon. “It’s very hard for her to just start jumping on the bandwagon of killing people and putting them in a suitcase,” she joked on the panel.

The Americans returns to FX on March 7th. Are you looking forward to it? Let us know in the comments below,

Images: FX

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