RTÉ Two’s crack­ing new US drama plays on our fears of the en­emy within

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - YOUR TV WEEK -

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.

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