When “The Americans” first premiered on FX, a person could feel slightly removed from its era. The 1980s setting and Cold War subplot made it feel like a marvelously crafted period piece, and yet the professional, arranged marriage of KGB operatives Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) gave the show a wild tension. In those first seasons it was often tough to know whether Elizabeth’s heart was truer to her country than her husband or if Philip would risk his life to build a real relationship with his partner-in-spying for the sake of giving their kids a future as true American citizens.
Their world has grown so much more complicated since then; weirder still is the fact that both the political and personal elements of the series are more directly relevant to national politics today than executive producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields could have predicted.
“We write the show and make the show very much in the bubble of the ’80s. We don’t look at what we know will happen. We really tell the story of these characters in that time, knowing what happened then,” Fields explained in a recent conversation. “That said, thematically, the audience may well bring to it what it will, given what is happening today. How could they not?”
Mind you, this interview was conducted in January — well before headlines broke about possible contacts between associates of then president-elect Donald Trump, including current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Russian government officials.
The fifth season premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m., as pressure to investigate Donald Trump’s ties to Russia or the extent of Russian interference in the U.S. election is increasing. Only recently a Russian sub was seen patrolling 30 miles off the shore of Connecticut. The world Weisberg and Fields built always felt true, but today’s developments give it a jarring relevance.