How “The Americans” Bosses Feel About Its Sudden Political Relevance

PASADENA, California — The first question for the cast and crew of The Americans at the Television Critics Association winter press tour on Thursday was about the FX show’s sudden relevance, given President-elect Donald Trump’s much discussed relationship with Russia.

“There’s something, in a twisted way, that’s kind of fun seeing all this stuff in the headlines we’re trafficking in all the time,” executive producer Joel Fields said of the Cold War-set series. “But on the other hand … the initial idea of the show was really to say, ‘Hey look, these people who we think of as enemies are really just like us.’ That was at a more peaceful time in US-Russian relations and to see how things have spiraled so out of control, frankly, just doesn’t feel so good.”

The Americans, which revolves around KGB officers Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) covertly living and working in America in the ’80s, was originally designed to show “that our enemies are human and that those cultures we believe are out to get us are comprised of human beings who aren’t that different than we are, whether or not we agree with them,” Fields said. “It’s surprising to find that [it’s] people from Russia again.”

Joe Weisberg, another executive producer on the show and a former CIA officer, said that The Americans’ core tenet of understanding extends to his personal views of US-Russian relations. “I’m in favor of better relations with Russia,” Weisberg said. “I think that’s possible and I hope we get there.” When asked if that means better relations with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Weisberg responded, “I think better relations is a political question, so I don’t think you’re going to get there without better relations with Putin. He’s running that country, he’s very popular; the two are going to go hand in hand.”

As reporters repeatedly asked how real-world events might influence the show’s content, Fields and Weisberg stressed that The Americans exists “in a bubble” and has no intention of winking at the contemporary political landscape. “We don’t want anybody to ever feel the people doing this show were watching current events. You can’t do that with a period show,” Weisberg said. But the simple fact they’re making a show about Russian espionage means it’s inevitable some elements will have modern day associations. “The show being what the show is about, it’s in automatically. All the operations that they’re being accused of running are operations we’ve been running on the show,” Weisberg said. “That’s through no effort or genius of ours, that’s just if you do a show about Russian espionage and it’s in the news, it’s in your show.”

There is, however, one way the results of the 2016 election may have altered The Americans, which has its penultimate season premiere on March 7. “Ironically, if Donald Trump hadn’t become the president-elect and soon-to-be president, we might have been able to [include him in the show],” Fields said of the businessman’s omnipresence in New York during the ’80s. “But now I can’t imagine, we can’t imagine, any way of doing that that wouldn’t seem absurdly self-conscious.”

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