The best modern film about American politics is Oliver Stone’s Nixon, the merits of which can be appreciated only once you have divested yourself of any suspicion that it has anything more to do with the life and career of Richard Milhous Nixon than Antony and Cleopatra has to do with the biographies of its eponymous heroes. The Americans, an FX espionage drama now in its second season, treats the Cold War the way Shakespeare treated Plutarch — a rich source of character and incident used as scaffolding to tell stories that are really about something else.
The Americans is a little like the first season of Mad Men in that it considers the possibility that a picture-perfect suburban couple with two well-scrubbed children (a boy and a girl, of course) might be something other than, and entirely less wholesome than, it seems. In the case of Mad Men, that meant that the remarkably successful husband was in fact a fraud, a man raised in poverty in a whorehouse who as a terrified soldier seized upon the death of a superior to get himself out of combat and into a new life under a new name. The Americans goes that one better: Our happy couple, Mr. and Mrs. Jennings, is in fact composed of two illegal deep-cover KGB agents joined together by their masters in Moscow and inserted into the United States in the 1960s.