5 Reasons You’re Not Watching TV’s Best Show: “The Americans”
An FBI agent moves into a house in suburban Washington D.C. It’s the early 1980s, and tensions are high as the Cold War continues to permeate every part of daily American life. Stan Beeman has been moved to D.C. by the FBI to focus on taking down sleeper Soviet agents. To fight the invisible enemy. He is pleasantly surprised to find a stereotypical American family is already settled in across the street. Meet the Jennings family.
What Stan doesn’t know is that Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are loyal servants to the communist state. The FBI agent has moved in across the street from two Russian spies.
This is the set-up for FX’s “The Americans.” Compelling, right? Sounds like there are plenty of fun adventures to be had! A little hard to believe, perhaps, but once you realize it’s crazy to suspect a family with two children to be Russian spies, I think you’ll get over it.
Then again, maybe you won’t.
Maybe that’s why you’re not watching “The Americans,” which is currently in the midst of a transcendent fourth season. The show struggles to get around 1 million viewers per week. FX’s spring sensation, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” regularly had about 6 million viewers per episode. How can a show this good get so little attention?
I could write hundreds of words about how great the show is. About the way it manages to function as a great identity study, family drama, and romance all at once. About its fantastic performances across the board. About its way of continuing to build tension from episode to episode and season to season. But frankly, I know the show is great, and I know that people don’t watch it. I just want to know this: Why don’t more people watch “The Americans”?
Let’s investigate five possible reasons.
The plot is too confusing.
Perhaps you tried to watch “The Americans” and were just confused. It’s fair; there’s a lot of stuff going on in the world of the show.
At any moment, the Jennings family is managing several missions at a time. A honeypot here. A theft of secret government documents there. A turning of an American to support the Soviet mission over there. I’ve watched the entire series run to this point, and I can honestly say it is hard to follow at times.*
*Counterpoint: Plot is far less important on a show like this than something like “Breaking Bad.” Showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg talked about this recently on The Andy Greenwald Podcast.
It’s too hard to believe.
Perhaps you find it impossible for two normal human beings to do as much spy stuff as the Jenningses do on this show. Maybe the wigs are just too much. Maybe it bothers you that the Jennings children are so frequently left to their own devices during missions. There are plenty of reasons why someone might criticize the show for being “unrealistic.”
If the plot is already confusing you rather than clarifying things, this will only exacerbate the problem and make things worse. See ya later, show!
I can’t “root” for “bad guys.”
This is one actually seems to come up quite frequently whenever I tell people about the show. There’s always a moment of hesitation where the person I’m talking to will say, “Wait, so the Russian spies are the ‘good guys’?” (Oh, but it’s so much more complex and complicated than that.)
I’m not convinced that this stops a ton of people from watching the show, but it’s not crazy to think that some people actually use television to kick back and relax after a long day. Maybe they don’t want to see someone’s dead body shoved into a suitcase!
I’M NO COMMUNIST!
It’s not on Netflix.
I think this is truly the No. 1 reason why more people don’t watch “The Americans.” It’s unclear how many subscribers streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime actually have, but I’m willing to bet that more than half of Amazon Prime subscribers don’t even realize they have access to hundreds of TV shows (including “The Americans”) along with their free shipping. Don’t forget that perception is reality. People don’t come to Amazon for television.
If “The Americans” were on Netflix, I’d be willing to bet — despite the fact that Netflix never says anything about how many people are watching its shows — that more people would be watching it.
I’m too far behind.
This is the big one.
The show’s fourth season is going on as we speak, and catching up on TV, in the age of more than 400 shows per year, is no easy task. There’s simply too much for even passionate TV fans to keep up with. Frankly, when something is nearly 50 hours into its run already, that’s a big ask. You don’t want your TV watching to feel like work, and if you like things as a complete package, you might as well wait until the entire thing is over to watch it.
How do you get people to watch TV shows week to week? How can a show be of great quality but not viewership? Can a show be worth the money if it only becomes popular in the afterlife?
These are the kinds of questions TV networks are desperately trying to find answers to before it’s too late. For the time being, I’ll just be sitting in my corner, alone, watching “The Americans.” And you’ll be sitting in yours, not watching “The Americans.”
“The Americans” is currently streaming its fourth season on FXNow and airing Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. Its first three seasons are available on Amazon Prime. Check it out, and let us know what you think, or tell us why you don’t watch it.
Hidden in Plain View is a bi-weekly column where I help you find great shows buried in the clutter that is modern television. With more than 400 original scripted series on TV in 2015 alone (and more expected this year), it is simple a fact that you’re missing out on something great. Archive of previous columns here.