The Americans

(i)

 

Period spy drama blends violence, sex, and '80s nostalgia.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The Americans paints the world -- or at least the nation's capital of the 1980s -- as a treacherous place teeming with spies and ulterior motives, and there are complex messages at play when it comes to duty, loyalty, and patriotism. In an interesting twist, it also has viewers sympathizing with "bad guys" who are working against the United States.

Positive role models

The main characters are the very definition of duplicitous, and while their love for their children is genuine, their feelings for each other are much murkier. Deception is literally a way of life, and they're even required to be unfaithful to each other when the need arises.

Violence

Blood is kept to a minimum, but violence is a regular part of the plot and includes shootings and stabbings in addition to hand-to-hand combat and physical threats.

Sex

Sexually-charged kissing with some implied intercourse (including oral sex) that leaves little to the imagination. Women sometimes appear in lingerie (with the top of the buttocks visible, for example).

Language

Audible language includes "s--t," "pissed," and "ass."

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some smoking and social drinking, although most characters don't overindulge.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Americans is as much about the moral complications of married relationships as it is about political espionage, so it's a better fit for adults and mature teens. Sexual content isn't constant, but when it pops up things can get pretty steamy, with suggested nudity and implied intercourse (including oral sex) that leaves little to the imagination. There's also unbleeped swearing ("s--t" is audible) and occasional social drinking and smoking, although characters rarely drink to excess.

What's the story?

To the casual observer, Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) are an unassuming married couple who run a travel agency in suburban Washington, D.C. But the truth they've kept hidden for years is that they're Soviet spies who were trained to impersonate THE AMERICANS they've been brought up to hate. Their two children, Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati), know nothing of their parents' real identities. But their new neighbor -- an FBI agent (Noah Emmerich) who works in counterintelligence -- is beginning to wonder.

Is it any good?

QUALITY

Created and executive produced by a former CIA agent, The Americans not only takes on a complicated topic but also asks viewers to do something they normally wouldn't: root for the "bad guys" (in this case, Russian spies). Back in the '80s, when Cold War tensions were coming to a head, a show that pushed a pair of KGB agents as protagonists would never have aired on American TV. But 30 years later, with the Iron Curtain lifted, it's a very different world -- and America has very different enemies.

So the concept is certainly intriguing -- and the bad '80s fashion is often amusing. Rhys and Russell make a pretty good team, too, stirring up strains of '80s TV duos like Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Hart to Hart, albeit much darker. But in the end, The Americans isn't as successful as it could be, thanks to flashbacks that feel less than real and choppy plots that make the action hard to follow. It's not the best choice for family viewing either.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the Cold War and how it shaped Americans' perceptions of the Soviet Union and its allies after World War II all the way through the early 1990s. How do Cold War tensions and the "Red Scare"-fueled fears of the 1980s compare to modern concerns about Al Qaeda, terrorism, and Muslim extremism?

  • Given their mission to work against the United States at any cost, are the main characters heroes, villains, or something in between? Are they honorable for doing what they believe is right, or are they reprehensible for undermining the U.S. government? Why is it so difficult to decide how you feel about them?

  • How was growing up in the 1980s different than what it's like to grow up now? (Teens: Ask your parents.) Aside from fashion and funny hairstyles, what other types of things have changed in the past three decades?

TV details

Cast:Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich
Network:FX
Genre:Drama
Topics:History
TV rating:TV-14

This review of The Americans was written by

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Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Parent Written byliolio March 25, 2013

Nudity

They have now begun to have nudity on the show...showing both men and women fully nude from the back and women from the side. Please let your readers know this.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Adult Written bycrusader666 February 24, 2014

Fabulous program, but mostly for adults and mature teens

One of the best new programs on television, but not really suitable for young children or immature teens. Lots of life lessons and history to be learned from this drama, to be sure.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Parent Written byBeckyDee January 6, 2016

Not for kids

This show leaves me conflicted as an adult viewer. While it has excellent writing that is fast-paced and intelligent at the same time, it sometimes veers off in randomly explicit directions that make me want to give up on it. It is definitely not for kids. Nudity is just the beginning and frankly isn't the real issue, it's that the agents have to use their sexuality to get ahead, etc. *Stop reading to avoid spoilers, keep reading if your teen tells you this show is fine to watch. It's not* The first or second episode is an example of this, the female spy is clothed, but is performing explicit sexual acts on her target to gain his trust. She is disgusted afterwards. (So am I, the viewer.) The husband and wife team continually use sex as a ploy, there's no getting around or fast forwarding through it. It is very explicit (like Sons of Anarchy was with sex, not as violent as Sons though, to give a comparison). Scenes like, the husband and wife performing sexually explicit acts on each other and their teen daughter walking in ("Ick Factor" off the charts for that scene). Worse, there is husband on wife sexual brutalization that leaves the wife (who has a history of being raped and husband knows this) sobbing and curled up in the fetal position. There's near-miss sex between a 40 something male with a 13 year old target that's avoided by luck, not morality. Several episodes show him grooming her and his own disgust with himself as his daughter is the same age. However, he steels himself to do the deed in the name of Mother Russia, his wife is reluctant, but doesn't object. (As a viewer who appreciates the spy story and twists and turns of it, the scene of sexual abuse of the wife and the storyline with the underage target was gratuitously explicit, I don't need nor want to see that to be entertained.) As I'm writing this I'm liking the show less...however, the spy storylines are intelligent and hold-your-breath exciting, there is a great cast, especially Keri Russell, who is brilliant in this role. If you have an interest in the Cold War or in the spy game, you may enjoy this show....maybe. Told you I was conflicted.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking

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