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Naturally, when the producers and cast of The Americans fielded questions from reporters on Thursday at the Television Critic’s Association press tour, the conversation quickly turned to real-life politics.
When asked about the parallels between the FX drama — which follows two Russian spies undercover in America in the 1980s — and the recent revelations about Russia’s potential involvement with the 2016 president election, show creator Joe Weisberg expressed disbelief of the current events.
“There’s something in a twisted way that’s kind of fun about seeing all this stuff in the headlines that we’re trafficking in all the time,” he said onstage at The Langham hotel in Pasadena. “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 just like us.’ That was at a more peaceful time in U.S.-Russia relations, and to see things have spiraled so out of control, frankly, just doesn’t feel so good.”
Later, executive producer Joel Fields expanded on how the show relates to modern-day politics. “It’s funny — it seems like what we were saying within the show may be more specifically relevant to Russia. But that seems coincidental because we thought we were saying it just with regards to the concept of a generic enemy and how important it is to remember that our enemies are human,” said Fields. He also acknowledged that it is “surprising to find that it’s people from Russia again.” Added Weisberg with a laugh: “The idea of the show was that your enemies don’t have to be your enemies — but, as I was saying to Joel earlier, I don’t think the show worked.”
On a more serious note, the pair made it clear that any news regarding U.S.-Russian relations today would never affect the writing in the series. “We try to stay in a bubble because we don’t want anybody to ever feel like the people doing this show are watching current events,” said Weisberg, adding that if The Americans were a period show, current events might influence the series.
“But with a period show, it has to feel separate,” continued Weisberg. “And this show, being what it’s about, it’s in there automatically. All the operations [Russia is] being accused of running are operations we’ve been running on this show. It’s through no effort or genius of ours. It’s just that if you do a show about Russian espionage and it’s in the news, it’s in your show.”
When one reporter brought up the possibility of a Donald Trump cameo in the drama (hey, he was around in the ‘80s), the duo revealed that it’s something they’d actually thought about before. “We were just saying that, ironically, if Donald Trump hadn’t became Donald Trump the president-elect and soon-to-be president, we might have been able to do that. But now, we can’t imagine any way of doing that that wouldn’t seem absurdly self-conscious,” said Fields.
Weisberg, for his part, was a CIA officer before he became a television writer-producer. When asked if he is inundated with questions about the current state of politics by people in the industry, he acknowledged that it’s been happening. “I get a lot of questions, and I spend a lot of my time when I’m not working walking around in circles thinking about it,” said Weisberg, who added that he’s in favor of better relations with Russia. “I hope we get there. I think it’s possible.”
Better relations with Russia means better relations with Putin, clarified Weisberg: “I don’t think you’re going to get there without better relations with Putin. He’s running that country, and he’s very popular, so the two are going to go hand-in-hand.”
Has the Russian president watched The Americans? Weisberg and Fields have wondered but have never heard reports that he’s watched it the way they have of President Barack Obama. “We don’t know about Putin or Trump,” noted Field, joking: “But we could definitely send DVDs.”
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