TIM FANNING MY VIEW
RTÉ Two’s cracking new US drama plays on our fears of the enemy within
ost TV shows reflect the times in which they are made, no matter the era in which they’re set, and
( Thursdays, RTÉ Two) is no different. Married couple Philip and Elizabeth Jennings ( Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) and their two young children are a seemingly normal family enjoying a middle-class existence in suburban Washington DC. But what the neighbours and their children don’t realise is that Philip and Elizabeth are Russian-born and trained KGB agents. While the rest of the neighbourhood is chasing the American Dream, the Jennings are killing, kidnapping and spying to subvert that very idea.
The series opens in the early 1980s, just after Ronald Reagan has been elected the US president and is adopting a more bellicose attitude towards the Soviet Union. One of the most interesting things about the show is the tension in Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage of convenience. Elizabeth has lost none of her ideological zeal, while Philip is on the brink of defecting. This tension plays out in their conflicting views of the United States and their homeland. Even more complicated is the couple’s emotional life. Forced into a loveless marriage by their Soviet handlers, they have developed feelings for each other, yet must overcome their jealousy of the routine sexual liaisons that go with the job.
But what the show really plays on is our fears of subversion from within, which have been exaggerated most recently in the West by the Boston Marathon bombings and the killing of a British soldier in Woolwich. In both cases, the perpetrators lived, studied and worked in the communities in which they carried out horrific acts of violence.
There are enough gaping plotholes, hokey dialogue and impossibly clean hair to remind us that The Americans is no talky political thriller, but old-fashioned entertainment of the type that only, well, Americans can make. But the creators of the show – one of whom, Joe Weisberg, is a former undercover CIA operative – also play with viewers’ preconceptions by having a couple of Russian spies as their heroes – albeit spies who take out a lot of very nasty guys along the way, and one of whom wants to give it all up. David Suchet (above left) celebrates 25 years of playing the dapper Belgian sleuth in Elephants Can Remember, the first of five new Poirots that will complete ITV’s screening of every Hercule Poirot story (except the stage play Black Coffee). It’s a considerable achievement and, though the television adaptations have often embellished the originals, they’ve all been quality productions. Elephants Can Remember is no exception: a splendidly tangled tale in which both Poirot and his old friend Ariadne Oliver (Zoë Wanamaker, above centre) have cases to solve – Ariadne has hers pressed upon her by the overbearing Mrs Burton-Cox (Greta Scacchi, above right). As ever, the gorgeous Art Deco styling and starry cast are a large part of the fun. Look out for Iain Glen on a break from his role in Game Of Thrones.