Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother, Spy, Shield Maiden

Happy Mothers Day! I've been looking for an excuse to briefly talk about two freshman cable shows I saw and really liked these past few months. Today's holiday worked well for my purposes as they both feature two butt-kicking mothers who is also a spy or a shield maiden respectively. And so...

The first show is FX's riveting drama The Americans about KGB agents living in secret as a married couple with kids in the height of the Cold War. I've posted my thoughts on its surprisingly solid pilot a few months ago and the show really blossomed from there anchored by wonderful performances by leading actors Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell (who play the husband-wife duo of spies) and Noah Emmerich (the FBI agent neighbor). The supporting cast is not too shabby as well led by Emmy winner Margo Martindale as their handler and promising newcomers Alison Wright and Annet Mahendru. There's much to love about the show other than its superb cast, from its subtle period styling to its rocking score, but it's its ability to balance the cool spy stuff with its fake wigs, assassination attempts, and crazy gadgets, with the family/personal lives of Phillip and Elizabeth that will make me miss the show until it comes back for its second season. And since it is mother's day, I have to separately commend Keri Russell for what she is doing with her character. As Elizabeth Jennings she is the most captivating I have ever seen her on screen, seemingly cold and calculating, but damaged and longing all at the same time. All of that while sporting those mom jeans.

Speaking of strong women characters on TV, how about Lagertha Lothbrok? Who is she, you ask? If so, then you're certainly one of the few people who didn't check out History's Vikings series, which like The Americans, pleasantly surprised me right out of the gate and continued to impress as its first season unfolded. Lagertha Lothbrok, played wonderfully by Katheryn Winnick, is wife of the main character Ragnar Lothbrok, a strong Viking warrior with dreams of sailing West and becoming king of his tribe. While the series isn't about her at all (after all the series is about men doing "manly" Viking-y things like wars, invasions, and kidnappings), the show wisely doesn't make her subservient to Ragnar. This is in keeping with actual history as Viking women actually handled the finances and were in charge of the farm when their husband's were off to war. In fact they too fought in battles which they made a part of Lagertha's character. One of my favorite things about the pilot was Lagertha insisting she's still a kick-ass shield maiden despite of being a full-time mother at that moment. In any case, I'm hoping her role will increase next season, but even if for some reason it does not, I still enjoy many things about the show, most notably the totally gay subtext between Ragnar and Athelstan aka the English monk he kidnapped in the second episode. It helps that both are played by the very handsome Travis Fimmel and George Blagden respectively. But aside from wanting to see them kiss (or more), their evolving relationship with each other and their varying degrees of acceptance of each other's belief systems and other aspects of their differing cultures has truly been a series highlight for me.

With regards to Emmy Awards, I think if voters take The Americans seriously, Russell has a chance despite the ridiculously competitiveness of her category filled with other amazing actors playing mothers or mothers-to-be (Julianna Margulies, Michelle Dockery, Madeline Stowe, Connie Britton, Emmy Rossum) and non-mothers (Claire Danes, Elisabeth Moss, etc.) alike. It won't be easier for Winnick in the supporting category and in fact it might be even more difficult with her show a bit too out there for the Emmys. But I'm kind of okay with that since I'd want to give it two other actresses who play mothers on TV, Christina Hendricks and Anna Gunn. That is if the voters don't give it to the grand matriarch of Downton Abbey again played by Dame Maggie Smith. Happy Mother's Day!

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