The Weekend’s Viewing: It’s not easy being a deep-cover KGB agent in Eighties America

The Americans, Sat, ITV / Spying on Hitler’s Army: the Secret Recordings, Sun, Channel 4

The scene that summed up The Americans came when Elizabeth popped out to the garage of her suburban home in Washington.

Up against the walls was all the usual bric-à-brac of American middle-class life, the snow shovels and bikes and fridge freezer. And in the trunk of the car, gagged and strait-jacketed, was a top-ranking Soviet defector, recently kidnapped by Elizabeth and her husband, Phillip. The plan had been to return him to the Motherland but after another of their colleagues was injured in the operation, the Jennings miss the boat (literally) and have to keep him in cold storage until they can work out an alternative. It’s really not easy being a deep-cover KGB agent in Eighties America. Particularly when your daughter comes home from school after you’ve had a long night honeytrapping a presidential security adviser and tells you that her homework is to write  a paper on how the Russians always cheat at arms control.

The Americans began with an action scene that played like a cross between a music video and a Grand Theft Auto mission – the kidnap, accompanied by a pulsing soundtrack and a lot of hand-to-hand chopsocky and fast driving. But it’s really interested in quieter stuff. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play Elizabeth and Phillip, recruited in Moscow in the early Sixties and groomed for a perfect cover. They are part of a Soviet espionage elite, so deeply embedded that they’re virtually undetectable. Even the counter-intelligence agents hunting them aren’t convinced they exist: “They’re not  allowed to use a word of Russian once they’re here,” one man says to a colleague, “C’mon. Someone’s been reading too many spy novels.” But the Jennings do exist, juggling driving junior to hockey practice with dead drops and wet jobs.

It’s an interesting idea to build a classic them-and-us drama around the enemy perspective, but unfortunately The Americans doesn’t  have anything like the daring of Homeland, which led the way  with this secret suburbia theme. Elizabeth is the ideologue of the two, always intent on completing the mission. Phil shows signs of going native, praising the electricity supply and the amount of closet space. But there’s no real danger that Elizabeth’s mistrust of capitalism might have some force behind it. In one of the flashbacks to their arrival in the Sixties you see them checking into a motel and marvelling at the air conditioning. But Elizabeth isn’t entirely seduced: “There’s a weakness in the people. I can feel it.” A better drama would have made you wonder whether she might actually have a point. This one simply plants the line as evidence of intransigence and then concentrates instead on Phillip’s touching emotional susceptibility to the American way.

Conflicted loyalties and faltering beliefs were also at the heart of Spying on Hitler’s Army, an account of wartime eavesdropping on high-ranking German PoWs that began with the ludicrously over-hyped claim that it was: “One of the most audacious operations ever carried out by British Intelligence.” Oh sure, they wired a stately home for sound and then... the sheer nerve is just breathtaking... transcribed the resulting recordings! It was very interesting though in its account of political arguments between German generals and the chilling matter-of-factness with which prisoners talked of experiences of atrocities on the Eastern front.

General Heinrich Kittel indignantly shared a memory with a fellow officer of a mass shooting, his outrage, it slowly became clear, deriving only from the unseemly openness of the business and the possibility that the mass grave might pollute his troops’ water supply. Not all officers were so  morally numb. When the assembled prisoners were shown the first newsreels coming out of the death camps, one of them commented bitterly: “That’s the only thing about the Thousand-Year Reich that will last a thousand years.”

twitter.com/tds153

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)

comedy

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own