TV Rating: TV-14
Other Choices: Freaks and Geeks, Ashes to Ashes, The Carrie Diaries
Common Sense Says: Period spy drama blends violence, sex, and '80s nostalgia.
Common Sense Rates It:
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.
- 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?
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?
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.
The Good Stuff
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.
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.
What to watch out for
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 an issue
Drinking, drugs & smoking: Some smoking and social drinking, although most characters don't overindulge.