Avid fans of ‘The Amer­i­cans’ hope Em­mys Cold War will thaw

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - YOUR DAILY BREAK - By Jo­ce­lyn Noveck

NEW YORK » In the end, af­ter six sea­sons of mur­der most foul, high-stakes es­pi­onage and in­ter­na­tional in­trigue, it some­how felt per­fect that the cli­mac­tic scene of “The Amer­i­cans” should hap­pen in the most mun­dane of places: a park­ing garage.

There was no blood­shed, and not a sin­gle bul­let fired. “Just four peo­ple talk­ing in a park­ing garage,” says ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and co-writer Joel Fields. But that scene, and the much-ac­claimed se­ries fi­nale it an­chored, was deeply true to the ethos of a show that was never re­ally about ac­tion any­way, de­spite the body count or the sweep­ing themes at play. It was about a mar­riage. The show be­came big by go­ing small.

Mon­day’s Em­mys will be the TV acad­emy’s last chance to honor the FX spy drama which, af­ter be­ing passed over in ma­jor cat­e­gories dur­ing its run, is up for four, in­clud­ing drama se­ries and act­ing nods for Matthew Rhys and Keri Rus­sell, aka Philip and El­iz­a­beth Jen­nings. (It has won two guest act­ing awards for Margo Martin­dale.) Avid fans of the se­ries are root­ing for the KGB spy cou­ple, who did lots of RE­ALLY bad stuff but were still al­ways the ones you cared about.

Is it time for the crit­i­cally adored but Emmy-ig­nored se­ries to fi­nally get its due? This for a show whose fan base in­cludes, fa­mously, for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, whose fan­dom led to a state din­ner in­vi­ta­tion for Rus­sell and Rhys. Other fans, ac­cord­ing to the show, in­clude Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, U.N. Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley, and the cur­rent head of the CIA, Gina Haspel.

“For un­known rea­sons this show flew un­der the radar for a while, and that was some­thing we scratched our heads about,” says Eric Schrier, pres­i­dent of orig­i­nal pro­gram­ming at FX. But he says the crit­i­cal re­sponse to the show has been grat­i­fy­ing, as have other awards, like AFI and Pe­abody hon­ors.

Schrier says the “best mar­riage I ever made” (be­sides his own) was match­ing se­ries cre­ator and writer Joe Weis­berg, a for­mer CIA agent, with co-writer Fields. Weis­berg says the two are now “walk­ing around in a con­stant state of re­lief” that the show worked the way it did. “Not only could it be a dis­as­ter from the getgo,” Weis­berg says, “but it walked a pretty fine tonal line. It could have turned ridicu­lous at any time.”

Not that the premise was ridicu­lous: It was based on real-life sleeper spies who built lives in the United States, had chil­dren, posed as nor­mal fam­i­lies. Though “The Amer­i­cans” was in­spired by the 2010 ar­rests of 10 Rus­sian sleeper spies in the United States, the show was set in the Rea­gan era, to more eas­ily con­vey the tin­der­box state of U.S.Soviet re­la­tions.

That was 2013. A lot has hap­pened since on the U.S.Rus­sia front, of course, and more re­cently, “The Amer­i­cans” be­came known as one of the more top­i­cal and rel­e­vant shows on TV.

But flash­back to the end of the first season, when rat­ings weren’t at their best. The ques­tion arose as to whether the show should go broader, be­com­ing more of a tra­di­tional spy se­ries. The writ­ers say FX chief John Land­graf told them he’d thought about it, but de­cided that would “de­stroy the very thing that’s mak­ing the show good,” Weis­berg says — the in­ti­macy of it. “In a lot of ways, I think that’s when we re­ally found the voice of the show.”

Ac­tress Holly Tay­lor, who played daugh­ter Paige Jen­nings, says the cast felt the same way. “I was ex­cited that they kept it true to them­selves, wrote what they wanted to write,” Tay­lor says now. “I think that’s what made all the dif­fer­ence to real fans of the show.”

It was also around then that the writ­ers es­sen­tially de­cided how the show would even­tu­ally end (stop read­ing here if you’re still catch­ing up!) They be­gan a “fu­ri­ous amount of writ­ing” and ended up with a long doc­u­ment — they call it their bi­ble — map­ping out each char­ac­ter’s jour­ney.

They’re still sur­prised they were able to stick to it. But there they were, shoot­ing the fi­nal season, with the same idea — that when it all came crash­ing down, and it hap­pened fast, that Philip and El­iz­a­beth didn’t lose their lives or even their free­dom, but some­thing breath­tak­ingly pro­found none­the­less: they lost their chil­dren, to the Amer­i­can life they had to flee.

Tay­lor saw the script only a week and a half be­fore shoot­ing. “Like all of us, that fi­nal script left me speech­less,” she says. Not just the park­ing garage scene, where they fi­nally faced off with FBI agent (and neigh­bor!) Stan, or the scene where Paige shocked her par­ents by get­ting off that train to Canada, but all of it.

“I could never have thought of that end­ing my­self,” she says. “You conjure up your own the­o­ries and talk to your cast­mates and your friends, but none of us came up with any­thing like that. They man­aged to sat­isfy ev­ery sto­ry­line.”

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