Several series have taken on a different pallor in light of recent events: “24: Legacy” and its depiction of Muslim terrorists infiltrating the United States have come under fire after the President signed an executive order banning the entry of travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries in late January. Dustin Lance Black‘s LGBT rights miniseries “When We Rise,” debuting Monday on ABC, feels more timely than even Black anticipated, after President Trump’s cabinet rolled back the Obama administration’s guidelines on allowing transgender students to use the bathroom that match their gender identification.
Yet it’s “The Americans” that might take the prize for biggest surprise when it comes to unintentional timeliness. The Cold War series, at its core about sleeper KGB agents Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings and the FBI agent across the street (Noah Emmerich), had felt like a time capsule right until rumors began flying of Russian interference in the U.S. election and a leaked intelligence report concerning potentially compromising information the Russians may possess dealing with President Trump. Then a Russian spy ship showed up on the East Coast and Russian planes buzzed an American destroyer in the Black Sea.
“Things were going pretty well until we got on air,” creator and executive producer Joe Weisberg joked to Variety at the show’s Season 5 premiere in Manhattan on Saturday evening. But it’s only if you haven’t been paying attention, according to Weisberg, a former CIA analyst. “This was starting long before the current administration,” Weisberg said.
“There’s a lot I hope for in terms of what the show can do,” added fellow executive producer Joel Fields. “We hope it can entertain, and get people thinking about their own families and marriages and how they deal with trust. And then in the political sense maybe challenge them to think about why we always have to have an enemy, and why we always have to dehumanize the enemy — how ironic it is that one of the universal things that binds us as human beings is that we have to dehumanize one another.”
As for the cast, despite years of playing a Russian spy, Russell doesn’t quite think she could spot one. Emmerich, who plays dogged and intelligent — yet somehow slightly tragic — FBI agent Stan Beeman, similarly lacks the confidence of his character. “Nope,” he said. “If I’m brutally honest, unless they’re really bad, I’m not seeing them. Though you gotta think they’re increasing their presence.”
Costa Ronin, who plays KGB operative Oleg Burov, grew up in the former Soviet Union, but is reluctant to offer up kudos or condemnation for any of the parties involved. “I tend to take myself out of these conversations, because at the end of the day, it’s these guys that have played these games for years, decades,” he said. “The relationship gets better, it gets worse, and let’s just hope we find a way to deal with each other as people.”
FX Networks CEO John Landgraf echoed those sentiments introducing the premiere at the DGA Theater. The Cold War “was a time when Americans felt united with each other and against a common foe. But the show ‘The Americans’ has always challenged us to look more closely and completely at who we really were, and through that lens see more clearly who we really are — our motives and our country have always been more complicated than they seem. And neither are our enemies the cardboard cutouts we would imagine them to be.”
“The Americans” premieres Tuesday, March 7 on FX.