Thursday, March 20, 2014

'The Americans' –– Cold War Cool (If Looks Could Kill, They Probably Will)

(Originally posted for Vintage Fashion at

'The Americans', now in its second season on FX, is the only Cold War era spy thriller series on television. Here's what can happen: you begin to watch 'The Americans' for its early 1980's style and appeal; stay for the pacing and storytelling; discover you've become an avid fan of the series itself.
Having spent years poring over fashion from the late 70's & early 80's, in all of its understated elegance, I am happy to find any manner by which to pass the time in the early 1980's. Meanwhile, the first season begins with 'Tusk' and ends with 'Games Without Frontiers'. Even its musical bookends couldn't have been better.
In terms of fashion, the early 1980's was a unique time of classic and tailored looks. Form-fitting. There were no unusual shapes or colors. Everything was wearable. From office garb to weekend wear, these were clothes in which people could live, work and play. And for a pair of spies (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) living in the Cold War era, understated they must be, as they manage their covert affairs with great skill. They are not just a couple of spies; they are two excellent spies living as a married couple, with two very real children.
The early 80's were a transitional period and some remnants of late 1970's silhouettes were still in play. This depiction is also one of a conservative location and time, since the couple's home is in the suburbs of Virginia. We have characters working at the FBI HQ office; others who work for the KGB. The action happens in or around Washington, D.C., during the Reagan administration.
It is fascinating to see actors playing people who act in their daily lives as if they are 'normal', hoping their true abilities go undetected so they may infiltrate by drawing as little attention to themselves as possible -- overcompensating by being extremely casual in their manner of talking and walking. So casual, they're often too casual, and therefore strange. Factor in the multiple disguises they must wear for their various undercover tactics (they are spies, after all.) It's evident just how juicy the roles of Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings must be for Russell and Rhys to play.
As for the dream role of being the costume designer for the show, Jenny Gering has her work cut out for her. Anyone who has shopped vintage knows that while the most wonderful items can be found in vintage stores or by shopping online, difficulties can arise in finding that item in great quality or the right size. Having to do that for an entire cast for a series, including extras, would certainly be a challenge. But what a dream job. I could have only dreamed that another show might delve deep into period storytelling, taking us where 'Mad Men' has taken us before -- but within this other fascinating era, the early 1980's. Given all of their dramatic aesthetic changes, the 1960's and the 1980's are both of great interest.
Presumably, the show could cover further ground into the 1980's as long as it continues to be this captivating. (Here's hoping!) 'The Americans' could return for enough seasons to take us into the colorful, vibrant, BIG eighties.
For now, the subtlety that exists in the transitional early 1980's is what has kept me transfixed. And the quiet, stoic pacing of the series ties incredibly well with the covert lives of its characters, making 'The Americans' an altogether streamlined, distinguished, and deeply exciting experience.