New Castle News

The Couch Potato

February 5, 2014

The Couch Potato: Who to root for in today’s TV series? It’s getting tougher

NEW CASTLE — My DVR had a little surprise for me this weekend when the Couch Potato began scrolling through the offerings.  

Almost a year ago, I had heard that “The Americans” on FX was fast becoming a great new show, hopefully filling the void that would be left behind with the fast-approaching end of “Breaking Bad.”

So I searched for it, pressed the “series record” button on my remote and then never thought about it again. Well, the show must have finished its first season run by the time I had done that because “The Americans” never showed up in my queue.

Fast forward to this weekend, and all of the sudden, I had five episodes waiting for me. So I dived in and made it through the first four and I have to say, the Couch Potato has not been disappointed.

However, as I watched, I could not help but notice a specific television trend that is being repeated over and over again. And to this point, my estimation of “The Americans” being a replacement for “Breaking Bad” was more correct than I could have imagined.

Let me explain.

I think it all started with the best show of all time, HBO’s “The Wire.”  The basic premise of the show was that the viewer got an in-depth look into life on the streets of the Baltimore drug scene, following the dealers, kingpins and junkies. The viewer also got to see the flip side of that as we followed the men and women of law enforcement trying to bring the drug trade down.

The viewer was immersed in both worlds and was the only one in the story who could see what was happening on both sides. It was a dramatic trick that worked as you just wanted to scream into the screen to tell the cops how close they were to catching the bad guys.

But at the same time, you knew the bad guys so well that you knew what they had been through and why they did what they did, and it was sometimes hard not to root for them, too.  

In short, it was a new way to present good guys and bad guys. It was nothing like “CSI” or “Law and Order.”

When “Dexter” came along on Showtime a few years later, it upped the ante by placing the good guys and bad guys even closer. Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) was a serial killer (who only killed other bad guys, mind you), but was also a forensic blood expert for the Miami Homicide Division.

On top of that, his adopted sister was a police officer who worked closely with him, often investigating cases that Dexter was directly involved in as a killer. So once again, the viewer was able to see both sides and become invested in each.

“Homeland” recently wrapped up its third season on Showtime, and did its best to keep this trend going. While the bad guys in this show are Islamic terrorists, their sleeper cell agent Brody (a former American Marine living a double life and played by Damian Lewis), works closely with CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), who has spent her career trying to bring down terrorists.  

This show took it one step further as Brody and Mathison ended up getting romantically involved, even though they both knew they were on opposites sides of the “war.”

Finally, to Couch Potato favorite, “Breaking Bad,” which did nothing but excite and thrill over its five-season run. As most know, protagonist Walter White (Bryan Cranston) built a meth empire over the course of the show. In keeping with the trend, his brother-in-law, who he saw daily and broke bread with often, happened to be a DEA agent who investigated the Albuquerque drug trade.

The show ultimately (spoiler alert!) ended with the death of both of the characters, but not before the viewer got to see both sides as the characters lives were so intertwined, even while being on opposite sides.

That all leads me back to “The Americans.” In this show, the action is set in 1981 as the Cold War begins to wind down. However, the KGB has placed sleeper agents in America, living as Americans, with families and normal lives, but also orders to carry out missions against our country.

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play the KGB agents pretending to be Americans, and each episode follows the trials and tribulations of their missions against America, while also raising two children who know nothing of their parents’ lives.

As you may have guessed, the series begins with an FBI agent, who just happens to have been recently promoted to begin working against the KGB and Russians, moving in across the street from our main characters. Of course, their lives are becoming more and more intertwined with each passing episode.

Here’s the thing, though. It does make for great television viewing. The drama is high and the stakes are even higher when the people on both sides of the law are interacting in their everyday lives.  

While it may be implausible for that to happen as often as it does on television, this dramatic trick has certainly been a win for the viewer.


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