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Ron Radosh

It is the particular premise of the new FX cable TV series The Americans that the Soviets had ready to go when called lots of sleeper cells of KGB agents living in the United States. Taking place in the years of the Reagan administration, the show depicts the exploits of a husband and wife who seem, at first introduction, a typical young, middle-class suburban couple living in the Washington, D.C., area, with a 13-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son, to whom they are loving parents.

The couple, Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, are played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. Viewers quickly learn that their coupling was a KGB-arranged marriage. Brought together in the Soviet Union by KGB bosses, they are trained in the ways of America, taught perfect English, and then smuggled into the U.S., where the KGB buys them a nice home and establishes a travel agency for them to run as a perfect front. As part of the deal, they are expected, as most Americans are, to have children and raise a family.

Their days are spent running their business and taking their kids to school, while their evenings (and sometimes their days) are spent in such endeavors as kidnapping a KGB defector who has become too prominent on the lecture circuit, and preparing upon orders to spy upon the home of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, where a top level meeting is to take place at which they hope major American secrets will be revealed. To do this job, the couple has to force Weinberger’s African-American maid to place a bug on a clock in Weinberger’s study, which they accomplish by poisoning her son with a toxic agent for which only they have an antidote.

Ironically, viewers learn that their next-door neighbor is an FBI agent named Stan, played by Noah Emmerich, who is suspicious of everyone, and naturally wonders whether everything is as it seems with his neighborly friends. The Jennings do not know whether he moved there because the Bureau suspects them. To boot, Stan’s area is counter-intelligence and searching for secret Soviet agents operating in the United States.

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