TV Series Review: “The Americans”

A great spy drama with fascinating family relationships. Two more seasons to go!

The Americans is an American television period drama series created and produced by former CIA officer Joe Weisberg. It premiered in the United States in 2013 on the FX network.

The Americans is about the marriage of two KGB spies posing as Americans in suburban Washington D.C. shortly after Ronald Reagan is elected President. The series centers around the arranged marriage of Philip (Matthew Rhys1 and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell), who have two children – 14-year-old Paige (Holly Taylor) and 12-year-old Henry (Keidrich Sellati). The children don’t know about their parents’ true identity. The spies live next door to Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), an FBI agent working in counterintelligence. From there it gets complicated.

This is one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen. I look forward to every episode. What makes it special is the interplay between the spying and what’s going in the family of the Russian spies and the family of the FBI agent next door. In the end, I am interested in the personal relationships more than I am the spying. The spy stuff adds intrigue to what would otherwise be normal relationship issues. I can relate quite easily to the relationship issues. The spying is just plain fun to watch, partly because of the now dated technology of the the era (the 1980s) in which the series takes place. The relationship between the more practical Philip and the rule-following Elizabeth makes for some fascinating issues. Keri Russell’s beauty enters the plot in many different ways.

The New York Times said “The Americans” is “one of those rare series that actually has gotten better every season.”

The series is in its fourth season and is available on Amazon2, iTunes and Google Play.

On May 25, 2016, FX announced that the series will end in 2018. The series will have a fifth season with 13 episodes in 2017 and a sixth and final season in 2018 with 10 episodes.

If you want insider information about the show, Slate has a podcast about the show featuring cast, crew and creators.

  1. Rhys is Welsh but plays a very convincing American — or more accurately plays a Russian pretending to be an American. 
  2. Seasons 1 – 3 are free if you have an Amazon Prime Subscription. 

TV Series Review: “Vera”

A British murder mystery series with a quirky but likeable detective.

Vera is a British crime drama series based on novels of the same name, written by crime writer Ann Cleeves. It was first broadcast in 2011, and six sets have been broadcast so far. The series stars Brenda Blethyn as the principal character, Detective Vera Stanhope.

Vera isn’t what you’d expect a detective to be. She’s older 1 than most detectives, disheveled and can be difficult to work with.2 At the same time, Vera is very observant and committed to her work. She also has a big heart that she prefers not to reveal. The settings and the cinemaphotography are beautiful. Her colleagues are interesting and endearing. There’s something nice about having a grandmother-like figure solve murders for a living.

Each 90-minute episode episode is self-contained. A crime is committed at the outset of each episode and by the end of the episode Vera has solved the crime in her own gruff and meandering way. One of the things I enjoy is the resolution at the end of each episode. I find it satisfying compared to the usual cliffhanger ending.

I’m still in the first set and I’ve enjoyed every episode so far. Each set consists of four episodes. Vera will return for a seventh set in 2017 so if you’re new to the series there is plenty to watch.

The series is available on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon.

  1. Vera is portrayed by Brenda Blethyn who is now 70 years old. 
  2. One of the detectives who works for her refers to her as Mussolini when he’s at home. 

Podcast Review: WSJ Podcasts

Thoughtful, Brief and Well-Researched Podcasts

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has a great lineup podcasts:
1. Tech News Briefing
2. What’s News
3. Your Money Matters
4. Opinion: Potomac Watch
5. Opinion: Foreign Edition
6. Free For All
7. Off Duty
8. Speakeasy
9. Heard On The Street
10. Moneybeat
11. Watching Your Wealth
12. Media Mix
13. This Week In Barron’s

They all are well-researched and respect the listener’s time. My favorites include Tech News Briefing, Money Beat, Potomac Watch, Heard on the Street and Media Mix.

I just heard a great interview on the WSJ Media Mix podcast of David Levy, the president of Turner. Levy speaks candidly about “cord cutters” and the competitive environment TV faces from internet giants. After listening to the interview, I have the impression that Turner and other cable companies gather a lot of data from cable boxes just as Google gathers a lot of data from its search engine and other sources.

Paul Gigot, the editor of the Journal’s editorial pages, offers insightful analysis of what’s going on in Washington on the Potomac Watch podcast. Even if I don’t agree with Gigot I appreciate hearing his perspective.

Tech News Briefing doesn’t dive too deep if you’re a geek but they make up for it with good reporting.1

WSJ What’s News is updated several times during the day as events warrant. What’s News is also available on the Amazon Echo as part of your flash briefing.

You don’t need to subscribe to the WSJ to listen. The podcast is available for free in iTunes, Spotify, Google Play and your favorite podcast app.

We are in the golden age of podcasts.

  1. I miss Walt Mossberg’s days at the WSJ. I followed him more closely when he was at the Journal. 

Marilyn Monroe on Projection

“I’ve let people fool themselves.”

The truth is I’ve never fooled anyone. I’ve let people fool themselves. They didn’t bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn’t argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn’t. When they found this out, they would blame me for disillusioning them and fooling them.

Marilyn Monroe

Book Review: Exploring Paris By Foot Along the Seine

David Downie shares his love of Paris.

I stumbled across Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light while preparing to visit Paris again, a city I have loved for almost 40 years. The author, David Downie, is an American who has lived in Paris since 1986. He loves Paris deeply and knows it far better than I do.

Downie likes to walk. His book is divided into Paris People, Paris Places and Paris Phenomena. It is the places that interested me the most. For example, Downie describes a long walk along the Seine that I decided to replicate. It transformed my view of Paris because I learned how much of the city revolves around the river. I also learned just how small the city is geographically and how it seems that almost every centimeter of the city has been lovingly cultivated.

The walks begins at France’s gigantic national library – Bibliothèque nationale de France. This is the largest library I have ever seen; it houses 14 million books and journals. It is located near the Métro station Bibliothèque François Mitterrand right along the Seine. But not much else is nearby. The location feels desolate, modern and suburban, although the library remains within Paris’s Périphérique or beltway.

However, it was unclear to me from reading the book where the walk ended so I emailed the author who cheerfully responded with the details and even suggested a nice, reasonably priced restaurant for lunch right along the walk. (The restaurant is La Fregate and is at the only spot on the walk where you have to go up to the sidewalk from the river.)

I watched the city transform from stark, modern suburbs and eventually came upon Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower and on to its terminus at the Pont Mirabeau. I will never forget Le Pont Mirabeau after reading Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem in high school breathing life and love into the bridge. Seeing Le Pont Mirabeau at the end of this day-long walk was special. The entire walk was about 10 km or 6.2 miles. The transformations within that short distance speak volumes about Paris.

At Downie’s suggestion, I also visited Buttes-Chaumont park which is even more impressive than Mr. Downie describes. He knows Place des Voges like the back of his hand so that chapter is exceptional.

On top of the wonderful details that make Paris come to life, Downie’s prose shows a love and mastery of the English language that I appreciate.

This gem of a book will teach you so much about Paris and make you want to return again and again or just to go to Paris and remain as Downie has.