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Tag Archives: Jenny Gering

Saying Goodbye to The Americans

30 May

Television fulfils many roles; there are shows for all kinds of viewing experiences. In this age we call Peak TV, there are now more options than ever before. Shows you watch to keep up with the conversation, long running series’ you just can’t quit, the thing you stick on to fall asleep to, the ones you obsess over and can’t get enough of. It isn’t just new TV that is readily available, when Hulu added E.R. earlier this year, the level of chat from new viewers and old fans filled my Twitter feed for days/weeks, much to my delight.

My So-Called LifeThe X-FilesE.R.Buffy the Vampire SlayerThe Sopranos and Lost are all examples of shows that impacted me on deeply personal level. They made me understand what television could do and be. An inspiration to this career path I have taken.

In recent years Mad MenThe Leftovers, Friday Night LightsThe Good WifeHannibal and Halt and Catch Fire have resonated in way that have made me a better writer. But there is one show, which has run parallel to some of the biggest leaps I have made in my freelance career. And that show is finishing tonight.When The Americans made its debut on January 30 2013, this blog was just a twinkle in my eye. I was reviewing The Vampire Diaries for free for another site; I had a different blog that mostly consisted of (bad) Mad Men musings. Cut to April of that year and TV Ate My Wardrobe was born. It didn’t take long for the disguises to make an appearance on here. The second ever “Out of the Box” column,featured Elizabeth in curly wig and glasses.

I was hooked on The Americans from the first episode, from the first TUSK. The spy stuff was fun, but the central relationship was what drew me in. And this has since turned into thousands of words about Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. The costume design, which didn’t scream the 1980s of music videos, wasn’t just a case of throwing on a ridiculous outfit whenever the story called for a cover disguise. Big glasses, big hair, later big shoulder pads all factored, but it was grounded in the narrative. And as her permanent cover, no one has made me want to wear silk blouses as much as Elizabeth has made me want to wear silk blouses.

Now for a brief interlude with my Top 5 Elizabeth disguises. Not to discount the many dirtbags and mustache dudes Philip has played, but Elizabeth is my style queen. Yep even when she is Jennifer.

1) JenniferLovely, lovely Jennifer. The first appearance at Clark’s wedding was also an early “Out of the Box” contender. It is hard to make Keri Russell look dowdy, but this almost does it. And there is a vulnerability we don’t get to see too often when she has to interact with her husband’s other wife. Face eating specs are my weakness, Jennifer’s sartorial prowess in this area is strong.

2) Patty

Super glamorous Patty was the first time Elizabeth got to play into the ’80s trends we might expect. Big earrings, bigger coats. The first time Elizabeth had connected with one of her targets on a personal level. The Young Hee storyline was devastating, the costumes were incredible. And this shot from the Matthew Rhys directed “The Magic Of David Copperfield V: The Statue Of Liberty Disappears” is one of my favorites from the six seasons.

3) Brenda 

Brenda is probably the most on trend disguises Elizabeth has worn, she is a fashion buyer after all. And I was subconsciously influenced by Brenda’s specs when I bought my pair last year.

4) Velma (and Clark)

The blonde Velma look from season one and an outfit I would wear now.

5) I don’t have a name for this disguise, but everything about this look is fierce af. Also my Halloween costume inspo.

Back to the task at hand.

The reason why I wanted to write this specific goodbye post is because The Americans has made me, not just a better writer, but has given me the push into pitching various outlets over the last few years. The first costume designer I ever interviewed was Jenny Gering, the first professionally paid writing gig I got was writing about The Americans.

My knowledge of these characters, this world, what they wear, made me feel confident pitching articles calling Paige “The Final Girl” (will she be?), asking why Cold War panic was on trend, discussing the complex relationship dynamics of these characters and how The Americans is the rare prestige drama to get the teen family members right (it still is). Or how I obsessed for ages about the concept of ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ shows and finally got to put it in writing.

I have interviewed costume designer Katie Irish about Coach coats as pregnancy bump concealers, retro sports apparel and leaning in to the ’80s in this final season. I spoke to Jenny Gering about an article of clothing that rarely gets costume design column inches; the foundation garments, the underwear.

I went to a wedding earlier this month and even though I have bee freelancing for the last few years, this was the first time I felt fine saying “I’m a writer” when asked what I do for a living. In the past I would mention this career, but make some self-deprecating joke about how it was my side-gig. That I wasn’t worthy to call it my profession. I still get that imposter syndrome feelings, but they are getting easier to push to one side. Bury deep. What would Elizabeth Jennings do? I mean, not care about writing about TV shows for starters, but in this final season she has softened to the idea of what art can be. Just don’t ask her to watch a soap opera without pulling faces.

[Source]

Here at TV Ate My Wardrobe I have reviewed every single episode since the season one finale. I dread to think how many words this adds up to. I have talked best wigs, the marriage disguises, the vulnerability of Elizabeth, the huge season three truth telling moments and a personal essay about my wedding in relation to this secret service (that could now be Philip and Elizabeth’s undoing).

To the showrunners, Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, thanks for making a show that didn’t pander to its audience. That was smart and sad with a thread of hope throughout.

To Emmy voters, now is the time not only to honor the show, but also two of the best performances on TV for as long as I can remember. I talk about it a lot, but it is worth repeating; the things both Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys do with their faces without any dialogue is constant wonder. And what they do with those words is just as compelling.

You never know what you’re going to get with kid actors when they are cast. Luckily Holly Taylor was a Kiernan Shipka and Keidrich Sellati was not a Bobby Draper. Noah Emmerich hasn’t always had flashy scenes that will play as a nomination clip, but it is a steely performance that deserves examination and praise. My stomach hurts just thinking about Stan in this finale.

It is a cast from top to bottom that has wowed, but special shout outs to Alison Wright, Costa Ronin, Annet Mahendru, Margo Martindale, Frank Langella, Dylan Baker, Ruthie Ann Miles, Miriam Shor, Richard Thomas, Brandon J. Dirden and Lev Gorn.To all the other many people that have worked on this show in the costume department to props. Those photos I always point out in the Jennings house, small details like that add to the depth of The Americans. And I am definitely going to miss writing about these characters.

Don’t worry, I still have a few more pieces in me still. I have no idea how this show is going to end, but just know I will be looking as sad as Philip and Henry do in this season three finale moment. Actually I won’t look half as composed as this.

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Behind the Insta-Scenes: Photos from the Set

25 Feb

Time to serve up the best of Instagram over the past week including some more fashion week, awards and plenty of behind the scenes shenanigans including Agent CarterJane the VirginThe Americans and Girls. 

 

Girls returned with a strong season 5 premiere and so much of this was down to Allison Williams crushing it on Marnie’s wedding day (new writing gig and more thoughts on that here). The extreme make-up was such a good visual joke so it was fun to see a very make-up Jekyll and Hyde version of Williams here.

THIS IS HAPPENING TOMORROW #AgentCarter PS there should really be a flamingo emoji

A post shared by Bridget Regan (@bridgetregan) on

 

Agent Carter did something very fun/different this week with an elaborate song and dance dream sequence routine involving Peggy’s current love interests, her enemies and friends (including Angie which pleased me immensely). Jarvis also got a pretty good end of this deal.

 

Bridget Regan is everywhere at the moment and even though she has a tendency to play the villain I am also always rooting for her. This is adorable for starters. If not a little complicated now.

Awards Show prep. America's sweetheart.

A post shared by Mindy Kaling (@mindykaling) on

 

At the Costume Designers Guild Awards this week Mindy Kaling wore a stunning custom Salvador Perez gown and here she gives a sneak peek into the prep of an event like this. And I love her for this.

Rocky Horror Magic! #rhps

A post shared by Annaleigh Ashford (@annaleigh_ashford) on

 

Fox are staying in the live musical business with an adaptation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and as with the recent Grease: Live this cast has increased my interest levels.

 

From one Rocky to another and Russell Tovey’s dog is now the proud owner of a sweater matching the Gant by Michael Bastian one that Tovey wore as Kevin (and then lent to Patrick) on Looking last season.

 

Keidrich Sellati who plays Henry Jennings on The Americans grew 6 inches over the break and considering season 4 is starting up where season 3 left off this could prove to be visually interesting when Henry next pops up. Holly Taylor’s photo here form Sellati’s last day on set really does make them look like siblings mucking around instead of posing properly for a picture.

 

Oh to see in those garment bags. As you can tell I am very much looking forward to the return of The Americans and seeing what treats Katie Irish has in store for us (previous Americans costume designer and TV Ate My Wardrobe fave Jenny Gering co-designed the look of the premiere with Irish).

chivalry live #aliceandolivia #nyfw

A post shared by Annet Mahendru (@annetmahendru) on

 

This street style shot of Annet Mahendru at NYFW looks like it could be an actual campaign ad for Alice + Olivia.

Worsties that go over audition sides together stay together! @allanmcleod

A post shared by Kether Donohue (@ketherdonohue) on

 

Following on from FaceTiming with Desmin Borges last week, Kether Donohue is now reading audition sides with Allan Mcleod. I heart this cast hard.

 

June seems so far away.

 

Sarah Michelle Gellar went all nostalgic with her WCW using a shot from this mesmerizing WB promo. Right before she dropped this HUGE Cruel Intentions bombshell (this post is currently being written to the always incredible Cruel Intentions soundtrack).

 

I always made the mistake of wearing sandals/flip flops to clubs in the summer and this was always a giant sticky mistake. I have never ended up with red feet though (I did once see bloody footprints in the morning and I put this down to glass rather than something more sinister).

 

Liv Tyler’s photo (of a Polaroid) with Kate Moss just hit peak 90s nostalgia.

Ohhhh hello!!! #ElleStyleAwards @stellamccartney @davidgardner @jamesbrownhair

A post shared by Liv Tyler (@misslivalittle) on

 

And here is Tyler now. This Stella McCartney dress, the color, the shape is everything.

Best of TV Costuming 2015: Removing Disguisies and Revealing the Truth on The Americans

11 Dec

Welcome to TV Ate My Wardrobe’s “Best of 2015” costuming series and rather than doing a straightforward countdown we’re going to do a variety of posts that look at which costumes and shows have made a huge impact this year. From items we want in our own wardrobe to pieces that got everyone talking; we want to celebrate the work of television’s best costume designers.

So while there won’t be a Top 10 there is a show that would take the top spot without too much deliberation needed and The Americans takes that title; it is only right then to kick off our end of year coverage with this. The Americans is a repeat player in the “Best of” costume discussion with wigs (of course) and the ‘marriage disguise.’

Both detailed the key attributes in how Elizabeth and Philip mask their identities; one protects their overall cover while the other makes it possible for them to serve their country in the long term and costume designer Jenny Gering’s work is a vital piece of the spy life versus family puzzle. What season 3 did was take this and spin it on its head with the Paige problem; what do you do when your bosses want your daughter to become part of the program?

The Americans 3.10 Philip and Elizabeth - CopyThe threat of Paige finding out permeates its way throughout most of the season until it reaches a head when Paige directly asks what the deal is with their strange behavior. They may look like regular parents – okay maybe not regular parents – in their turtlenecks and office wear as they run their small business and they are anything but. They’ve still got almost everyone else fooled including their FBI neighbor and aside from a couple of close calls the spy biz is ticking along. Philip only had to kill one person this season and that is already an improvement on his high body count last year. I mean he has had to seduce a high school girl who is pretty much the same age as his own daughter so it hasn’t been obstacle free. Oh yeah and then there is the difference in opinion about what to do regarding Paige.

Elizabeth and Philip are both dedicated to the cause, but Philip is the one who often looks like he is on the edge of the abyss and could be persuaded to defect if the conditions were right (ie Elizabeth would have to agree, which ha). Elizabeth is more inclined to follow orders and so when they were dropped with the Paige bombshell at the end of last season she was the one who didn’t think it was so bad. For Philip all he can see are the bad things they have to do whether it is what they do to someone else – breaking up a body and putting it in a suitcase – or the lengths they go to get information. It’s not just about committing acts of violence and there is so much more they inevitably give away in the name of the cause.

The Americans 3.10 StingersIn fact the night Paige confronts her parents they have been out for work scoping out a hotel and working out which one of them is going to be on seduction duty. It falls to Elizabeth wearing a revealing white suit and black bob to perform this duplicitous task. A far cry from their travel agency office where Paige has visited earlier that day. When Philip and Elizabeth return home they are blindsided by Paige’s questions about who they really are as she begs them to stop lying. The conversation takes places in the heart of their family home; in the kitchen and at the table they share every morning. What makes this moment so spectacular other than the fact that the writers go THERE three episodes before the season finale is that Paige has agency in a storyline that has been all about her parents. She is the one that makes her parents finally figure out what the fuck they are going to do about telling her.

There is no separation of family and spy life in this case because they are so intrinsically linked and by having this conversation in such a communal space it hammers home this point. The time has come to reveal who they are and the decision to tell the whole truth (well a general overview) doesn’t involve dramatic wig removal (more on this later), but instead comes after a series of looks between Philip and Elizabeth followed by the smallest indicator of a nod. They still look like mom and dad and she didn’t have another experience where she should have knocked; however EVERYTHING about who they are from their names to their place of birth has been a lie and it is hard to get over this level of deceit. It’s why I can’t be too mad at Paige when she spills the part about their nationality in the finale and why for me she is exempt from the scorn that is normally poured over teen characters who meddle in dramas such as Homeland and Masters of Sex.

Paige is not the only one who is gets to find out who her nearest and dearest really are this season and she gets off easy in the how of this discovery. I mentioned how there is no dramatic wig removal when Paige learns the truth; for Martha she gets to finally see the person she is married to and he looks like a very different person to the one in the photographs. The shit has really hit the fan in the Martha assignment thanks to Agent Gaad finding out he has a bug in his office and oh yeah his secretary was the one who put it there. No one else knows this yet and Philip desperately tries to keep Martha on side pulling the ‘this is who I am really am and you can trust me’ card right at the end.

The Paige reveal was a full on HOLY SHIT moment in what it means to the entire show and yet I don’t think I felt more tense than when Philip slowly took off his Clark disguise; starting with his glasses, the wig pins and then removing his hair piece. He doesn’t utter a word as removes everything that makes him look like Clark and it feels like a horror movie. For Martha she is now looking at a man she doesn’t recognize and all she can do is react with teary eyed confusion.

The Americans 3.12 Clark The Americans 2.12 de-wigging The Americans 3.12 MarthaThe one major misstep The Americans made this year was by ending the penultimate episode with this scene and then giving no follow up in the season finale. It is so big that it needed addressing; is this the end of ‘Clark?’ Or is this a onetime only de-wigging and those glasses will never leave his face ever again when he is in her company?

Lack of dialogue can be just as effective as a passionate monologue and The Americans excels in the non-verbal. Martha can’t get any words out here because there aren’t any that can explain just what the fuck is going on and one of the best scenes of this season tells us everything we need to know through a series of looks. Philip and Elizabeth have come a long way from when we first met them; they’re still not all that great at sharing their feelings, but there is a deeper understanding and commitment. Trust is fundamental here and despite the conflict caused by the Paige problem it didn’t break them up as it might have done in the past.

No scene better demonstrates just how in deep they are with each other than the wordless tooth removal. It plays out like a sex scene and it is incredibly tender even if it involves pliers and some sounds I never want to hear ever again. Especially as I have a scheduled tooth removal next month. At least I will have something more effective than a shot of whiskey for the pain.

The Americans 3.03 The Americans 3.03 Elizabeth's eye The Americans 3.03 Philip's eye The Americans 3.03 Elizabeth eye afterPhilip and Elizabeth don’t need to tell each other who they really are because they already know (well some stories from their youth might still be required), but it is moments like this that really lay it all out there. It one reason why The Americans is so fascinating and the exploration of marriage and identity is consistently just as thrilling (if not more so) as the spy missions and disguises they wear.

Work in Other Places: Talking Underwear on TV and the Best Shows of the Year (So Far)

9 Jul

Shameless self-promotion time and if you can’t shamelessly self-promote on your own website then I don’t know where you can.

Over at Flavorwire I had the pleasure of talking to costume designers from Masters of Sex (Ane Crabtree), The Americans (Jenny Gering) and You’re the Worst (Wendy Benbrook) about the importance of undergarments and how both period and contemporary costuming reflects on and can impact current trends.

Masters of Sex 2.03 Fight The Americans 2.06 You're the Worst 1.01Here is an extract and you read the whole thing here

The Americans is a bridge between period and contemporary fashion — the ’80s don’t feel so long ago — and it helps that The Americans‘ costuming isn’t what you might typically expect from this decade (lurid neons, shoulder pads). The show keeps a toe in the ’70s, and that’s reflected in Elizabeth’s everyday underwear choices.

While a visible bra strap might have been an extremely telling costuming choice even in The Americans‘ era, shows set in the present day are likely to use this detail far more casually. For sitcoms featuring young women —  Youre the Worst, Broad City, New Girl, Girls — warmer weather means, “What kind of bra can I wear with this?” dilemmas.”

And over at Complex I wrote about why The Americans is one of the “Best TV Shows of 2015 (So Far)” focusing on the complicated relationships at the heart of this Cold War era spy show: “Disguises, wigs and missions create tense and fraught moments, but the heart shattering action takes place in the most mundane of locations as these characters reveal who they actually are. In a world where secrets protect, the truth is a loaded weapon and The Americans is not afraid of pulling the trigger.”

 

Nominees Announced for the 17th Costume Designers Guild Awards

8 Jan

The Costume Designers Guild 17th Award nominations have been announced and we are now fully into award season. The awards will take place Tuesday, February  17 and celebrate excellence in costume design across a variety of television, film and commercial categories. The division of categories means it isn’t just period costume that is given a place to shine (as it tends to be with the Oscars or BAFTAs) and some of TV Ate My Wardrobe’s most talked about and revered shows are on the list below.

Cersei Game of Thrones

Here is the full list of nominees:

OUTSTANDING CONTEMPORARY TELEVISION SERIES 
House of Cards – Johanna Argan
Ray Donovan – Christopher Lawrence
Saturday Night Live – Tom Broecker, Eric Justian
Scandal – Lyn Paolo
True Detective – Jenny Eagan

OUTSTANDING PERIOD/FANTASY TELEVISION SERIES
Boardwalk Empire – John Dunn
Game of Thrones – Michele Clapton
The Knick – Ellen Mirojnick
Mad Men – Janie Bryant
Masters of Sex – Ane Crabtree

OUTSTANDING MADE FOR TV MOVIE OR MINI SERIES 
American Horror Story: Freak Show – Lou Eyrich
Houdini – Birgit Hutter
The Normal Heart – Daniel Orlandi
Olive Kitteridge – Jenny Eagan
Sherlock – Sarah Arthur

EXCELLENCE IN CONTEMPORARY FILM
Birdman – Albert Wolsky
Boyhood – Kari Perkins
Gone Girl – Trish Summerville
Interstellar – Mary Zophres
Wild – Melissa Bruning

EXCELLENCE IN PERIOD FILM
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Milena Canonero
The Imitation Game – Sammy Sheldon Differ
Inherent Vice – Mark Bridges
Selma – Ruth E. Carter
The Theory of Everything – Steven Noble

EXCELLENCE IN FANTASY FILM
Guardians of the Galaxy – Alexandra Byrne
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Bob Buck, Ann Maskrey, Richard Taylor
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 – Kurt and Bart
Into the Woods – Colleen Atwood
Maleficent – Anna B. Sheppard, Jane Clive

EXCELLENCE IN COMMERCIAL COSTUME DESIGN 
Army ‘Defy Expectations, Villagers’ – Christopher Lawrence
Direct TV ‘Less Attractive’, with Rob Lowe – Mindy Le Brock, Jessica Albertson
Dos Equis ‘Most Interesting Man in the World Walks on Fire’ – Julie Vogel
Kia Soul Hamster Commercial Featuring ‘Animals’ – Anette Cseri
Smirnoff ‘The Mixologist’ – Laura Jean Shannon

The fantasy/period television category leaps out at me because every single one is outstanding when it comes to costume design (among other things) and the intricate detail that is delivered by these costume designers helps transport the viewer to worlds that have existed in the past or previously on the page. The main disappointment here for me is the absence of The Americans as Jenny Gering creates various personas for Elizabeth and Philip to adopt in their spy disguises while grounding them in their regular American family attire all without screaming “It’s the 80s!”

In terms of the contemporary TV offerings it is Lyn Paolo’s work on Scandal that has not only impacted the way we think about how powerful women dress, but there has even been an affordable clothing line featured on the show and available at The Limited so the audience can have a little bit of Olivia Pope’s style in their life. For this very reason I am disappointed to see Daniel Lawson’s work on The Good Wife missing from the nominees as Alicia Florrick’s work wear is just as striking and Lawson also has his own line (which albeit is not quite as affordable, more splurge levels of purchase).

Salvador Perez’s is the costume designer on a show which features another successful career woman, but Mindy Lahiri’s style is nothing like Olivia Pope or Alicia Florrick; however The Mindy Project is no less deserving and this is another huge omission for me. The same goes for the incredible costumes on The Honourable Woman and Ed Gibbon would be one of my choices for the TV movie/mini-series category. And there is no show that does serial killer tailoring quite like Hannibal; three piece suits and plastic bespoke kill suits shouldn’t go this well together but Christopher Hargadon has done just that. Plus he also does the lady power dressing well from Alana’s bold patterns, Freddie’s court attire to Bedelia’s silk blouses.

Congratulations to Jenny Eagan for the double nomination for True Detective and Olive Kitteridge. If only I could wear Zoe Kazan’s giant frames from the latter and pull them off.

Movie wise I don’t have too much to grumble about and The Imitation Game inspired TV Ate My Wardrobe to dip my toes into film costume design analysis; I have yet to see Inherent Vice and Selma (they are both on my list) but this is a strong category. Yesterday I watched The Theory of Everything and it covers all my 60s/70s dress and knitwear coveting areas and The Grand Budapest Hotel is striking in its heightened realism.

Trish Summerville created some of my favorite costumes in 2013 with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and her work was no less striking for a contemporary drama for Gone Girl as I’m still thinking about Amy’s black and white collar dress. Kurt and Bart took over from Trish Summerville on The Hunger Games and they showed how Effie can still be super stylish when all she has is drab grey and no wigs to work with.

Congratulations to all the nominees and I look forward to February 17 to see who picks up the awards.

For the nominees and winners from the TV categories at last year’s 16th Costume Designers Guild Awards head here.

Best of TV Costuming 2014: The Marriage Disguise on The Americans

4 Dec

Welcome to TV Ate My Wardrobe’s “Best of 2014” costuming series and rather than doing a straightforward countdown we’re going to do a variety of posts that look at which costumes and shows have made a huge impact this year. From items that we want in our own wardrobe to pieces that got everyone talking, we want to look at this year’s TV through the prism of costume.

The Americans returned at the start of the year building on the strengths of its first season and serving up a tighter narrative delivering on both the nerve shredding tension of the spy world and as a story about marriage. The wigs and multiple disguises continue to thrill (I wrote about the best covers of season 2 earlier this year) and instead of focusing on the spy attire as I did last year, I want to take a look at the mask they wear daily and the blurring of who they were/are. This marriage is no longer one of cover convenience and the complex emotional web is evolving as they get deeper in this thing called love. They are performing the roles of wife/mother and husband/father as part of their job, but they are also very much Philip and Elizabeth Jennings at this point even if between making dinner they steal government secrets. I will be discussing season 2 in some detail so there will be spoilers.

The Americans plaid and spotsLike most regular non-spies Elizabeth and Philip have clothes they wear for work and a more relaxed selection for at home. In the office Philip isn’t afraid to pattern clash – yes I am in love with the plaid/polka dot mix – and Elizabeth tends to stick with silk neck tie blouses, long gold chains and variety of smart pants and skirts. Nothing too fancy or showy, but what you might expect small business owners to wear. They want to blend in rather than call any attention to themselves but when you look like Keri Russell and have all that magnificent hair it is difficult to not stand out. Elizabeth is a cool mom, but not a cool mom in her style; she is on trend (particularly with her boots collection) but there is no element of try.

At home sweaters of the turtle/roll neck variety are very popular and come in both his and hers. Cue knitwear parade:

The Americans 2.01 The Americans 2.06 washing up the americans 2.09 spotlight The Americans 2.13 ElizabethCan a spy have it all? Balancing work and family can be hard in any profession and throwing espionage into the mix increases the difficulty and threat levels. Danger came in a whole new form with an unknown assassin who killed their spy co-workers along with their daughter in a motel room. Okay that turned out to be more of a domestic issue, a reveal that didn’t come until the finale and up to that point Philip and Elizabeth couldn’t be sure they weren’t on a hit list somewhere. Normally they have just themselves to worry about, but Paige and Henry became potential targets this season and The Americans expanded its focus this year looking at the wider family dynamic.

The marriage is at the heart of the show and as Philip and Elizabeth embraced the idea of real love – sometimes in a manner that no child should see their parents engage in, which is why you ALWAYS knock – the whole system they have been working in became more precarious. Feelings equal higher stakes and with each mission something seemed to go against them at every stage so Philip’s kill number increased dramatically and spy woes impacted their behavior around the kids.

This applies particularly to Philip and it all came to an explosive head in “Martial Eagle” with yet another operation gone bad and a very awkwardly timed trip to church with Paige. Paige has gone and given away all of the money she has been saving for a Europe trip and fun dad Philip turns into a terrifying Bible ripping version of himself as he berates Paige for “respecting Jesus” and not her parents. It is as if someone has flipped a switch and Philip briefly loses the ability to compartmentalize. We are used to seeing a scary but calm Philip in the field, not in this unbridled way in his own kitchen and I want to stress how incredible Matthew Rhys’ performance is across the entire season. The same can be said for Keri Russell who shows Elizabeth’s more vulnerable side this year along with her usually steely determination. Basically I want all the awards for this show.

Look at how hard it is for the pair who lie for a living to look happy when they meet the pastor at Paige’s church; Elizabeth is at least attempting to smile, whereas Philip is beyond being able to fake the grin and bear it approach. They at least put on their Sunday best for the occasion and look the part as they always manage to do.

The americans 2.09 Philip and ElizabethStacks and stacks of deceit are part of their world with cover on top of cover reaching breaking point and while they might be expert spies the emotional toil isn’t something Philip and Elizabeth excel in. Sex is one way they come back together and in the episode that follows “Martial Eagle” Elizabeth offers comfort to Philip in the form of food and an embrace. This leads to a very intimate exchange (thankfully Paige or Henry didn’t need a drink in the middle of the night) and this shared desire in a moment of despair reveals how in tune they can be in this new stage of their relationship. Earlier in the season this is not always the case and when Elizabeth wants to sleep with the wild animal that is Philip’s Clark persona (which is such a weird sentence to write) it ends up being an incredibly distressing experience which highlights how emotionally stunted they can be as a couple.

The Americans 2.05 E and PThe “Honey, how was your day at work?” conversation exists in an entirely different stratosphere on The Americans and in what is probably my favorite scene of the season Philip returns from a particularly difficult operation to a dozing Elizabeth on the sofa. Elizabeth has been running interference with Philip’s fake real wife Martha and their conversation covers all of these aspects. The noise Philip makes when he lies down is one of pure exhaustion and they get this brief moment before the kids’ alarm clocks go off and the day has begun again. In this spell between work chat and the world of their kids waking up they talk about their Russian past.

Discussing anything of who they were pre Elizabeth/Philip is forbidden and it is something they have mostly adhered to with a few notable exceptions such as Elizabeth revealing her real name in the pilot as a signal that their relationship could become more than a facade or when she asked him to ‘come home’ in Russian in the season finale. This is just a small moment discussing icicles that has been prompted by the Mossad agent niggling him about identity and where home really is. Sexual intimacy is one thing, however this scene from “The Deal” points to a much deeper connection as they cover everything from work, home and their past in a close embrace. Layers on layers on layers and it is surprising they don’t emotionally spiral at rapid intervals no matter how much training they have undertaken.

The Americans 2.13 picnicThe grand lie they have been living could all come crashing down with news that the KGB is interested in training Paige to be a spy who will have the ability as a US born citizen to really infiltrate the system. The threat comes from within and has the potential to fracture what has become a very stable relationship as Philip is on the ‘no fucking way’ end of the spectrum whereas Elizabeth sits at ‘maybe it won’t be so bad.’ It has been increasingly difficult to keep their personal and professional lives separate prior to this even though their personal life is a construction of the professional; now the lines are blurring even further and the family/espionage divide is on a collision course. Loyalty to the flag or loyalty to family?

Last year The Americans was a Top 10 show for me and after season 2 it is easily Top 3, if not the No. 1 (The Good WifeTransparent and Hannibal jostle it out for that spot) as it took the framework from the first season and upped the ante on every level. From a costume point of view this is a very fun show to watch with disguises aplenty, but the detail of their everyday attire should also be commended as Jenny Gering and her team don’t go crazy 80s; enhancing the real world quality of the production. Costume helps inform who these characters are and because we get so many versions of Philip and Elizabeth items such as comfy looking sweaters or Philip’s attempt to look like a cool dad act in conflict with the dark violence we know they are both capable of. There is no one point where their personal life ends and their work begins and no matter how hard they try to keep them separate this notion is an illusion wrapped up waiting to be exposed. Going from fake love to this real connection is just going to make the big Paige decision even harder. Roll on January 28 and season 3.

TV Costume Designer Secrets Revealed at Vulture’s First Festival

29 May

Costume designers from some of the shows TV Ate My Wardrobe covers extensively took part in a panel at the inaugural Vulture festival a few weeks ago and it is about time a roundtable like discussion went beyond just the actors, directors and writers. It is a discussion I have been highly anticipating and it doesn’t disappoint as the costume designers talk about their process and the shows they work on in an insightful and detailed manner.

The panel consists of Lyn Paolo (ScandalShameless), Jenn Rogien (GirlsOrange is the New Black), Jenny Gering (The Americans) and Tom Broecker (SNLHouse of Cards). Scandal and The Americans are two shows we cover extensively on an episode-by-episode basis and Girls is another TAMW regular. We’re also pretty excited that season 2 of OITNB lands on Netflix in just over a week!

Vulture Festival costume designersA variety of genre, time period and socioeconomic situations provide the backdrops these costume designers work on. One of them has to deal with a live show and the parameters for that are very different from working on a pre-filmed comedy. Live TV is generally chat show based which is all about wardrobe rather than costume design, not SNL where a sketch can get changed at the last minute and Broeker’s 20 years working on the show has informed how he handles these quick turnarounds. Time constraints are something all panelists have to work with as scripts can come in very late; Lyn Paolo mentions this can be as late as the night before on Scandal, so she preps a lot ahead of time.

One important aspect they all agree on is what is on the page is the biggest influence and it is the writing that informs their design process. Sometimes this can be incredibly vague and Jenny Gering mentions how the disguise descriptions on The Americans are often sparse in detail. The disguises are not meant to call attention, they should be invisible and this is part of the reason why it will say “generic bureaucrat” and nothing more. As it’s a period show, costume helps establish time and place without distracting from the story they are telling. It’s why their version of the 80s is not about the big trends, especially on the adults as this wouldn’t be how a regular mom in 1982 would dress and especially one who is trying to fit in. Gering goes on to talk about the evolution of Paige and how as a 13/14 year old girl this is a very transitional period in her life where she wants to look older and be taken seriously. In the season finale while they are on their impromptu mini-vacation Paige very much looks like a mini version of her mother in similar sweaters and heeled boots; the slight tightening of her clothes/heel addition reflects her desire to look older.

Evolution of a character through costume is something all the panelists talk about and Jenn Rogien mentions color palette and silhouette changes over the three seasons of Girls. Shoshanna started with a very feminine shape and cosmetic color scheme of blush pinks and pastels, in season 2 yellow and purple were added and by the third year she has graduated to stronger color and way more black. Shoshanna has become more aware of her body and so her very feminine style has been altered in response to this sexual awakening. Silhouette and color reflect how the “emotional landscape” has either become looser or tighter. Marnie has relaxed over the seasons and so her costuming reflects this. It might explain the beanie.

Rogien has a lot more restriction on how she portrays character evolution on Orange is the New Black as everyone pretty much wears the same thing and the prison uniform reflects the loss of identity through the khaki color and baggy fit. Some characters have altered their uniform, but only the ones who would have the ability or inclination to do so and Sophia is an example of this as her khakis are a lot more fitted and feminine.

On Scandal Abby and Quinn’s style has shifted the most from where it was in the pilot; Abby fell in love and so there’s less structure and Paolo uses lighter fabrics on this character now – all those scarves and wrap dresses I love – with Quinn as she’s got darker so has her attire. Some of these shifts aren’t meant to be all that apparent and it can act on a subliminal level. With Olivia Pope we associate the color white with her wardrobe and as Paolo points out Olivia doesn’t wear all white all that often. Gray is her staple and the reason we remember the white is because these outfits tend to come at heightened moments like the amazing Burberry trench from the season 3 premiere.

The absence of costume is discussed and nude scenes take place on most of these shows; it hadn’t occurred to me before watching this panel that the costume designer would play a pivotal role in this process. This even includes being the one who tells an actor how much skin they are showing. On OITNB they have had to come up with inventive ways to solve their modesty cover issues as a lot of their nude scenes occur in the shower room and water/adhesive don’t work well together. They also have to think about clothes coming off during sex scenes so while on Scandal you might want that top to come off with ease, on Girls or Shameless the more awkward this undressing act the better.

It’s an incredibly insightful and fun conversation, to watch the whole thing (and I’d highly recommend it) head over to Vulture.

 

The Americans 2.02 “Cardinal” Review: “How are we Going to Live Like This?”

6 Mar

There is a strong ripple effect reverberating through this week’s episode of The Americans as a result of the still unexplained murder of Emmett, Leanne and their daughter Amelia and the tension has increased ten-fold as they try and figure out the why of it all. Part of this is because they could fill a book with how this family is ‘just like us’ right down to the number and gender of their children. It’s a huge wake up call for both Philip and Elizabeth, even more so than the events at the end of last season that has already seen Elizabeth return with a slightly less rigid belief system. It’s not just Philip and Elizabeth who are taking note of these murders as they are all over the news (with no mention of course of their real profession) and Martha’s getting a gun for protection because of it – an early front-runner for Chekhov’s gun if there ever was one.

We are going to be looking at this episode once again through the lens of costuming and how this heightened paranoia is impacting the framing of certain shots.

The Americans 2.02 cream topWe open with Elizabeth still in full surveillance mode with everything and everyone posing as a potential danger; even the woman picking up children could be more than she seems. It’s all too close to home now and Elizabeth’s overall concern has switched from her duty to her country to her role as a mother. This ensemble is in tune with Elizabeth’s at home clothes and it’s the parallels it draws with another character which is why it stands out.

The Americans 2.02 NinaLike Elizabeth, Nina is leading in a double life and there is a noticeable difference in their styling. Elizabeth is playing the all American mom, whereas Nina is still very much a Russian in her surroundings and clothes. This cream sweater is not revealing in any way and the bow adds a hint of femininity. Nina does exert her sexuality outside the Embassy with Stan, but inside she is very much about toeing the company line, complete with the right look. Last season she also had to resort to sexual favors in the Embassy for information, however she holds her ground with Blondie loving Oleg with steely and determined fashion. White tones reflect innocence and both Elizabeth and Nina know how to work this angle to their advantage. There is also a level of detachment that Elizabeth has lost in light of recent events and yet Nina is still in possession of this; for how long?

The Americans 2.02 brown trenchAny good spy has a trench coat and Elizabeth is no different, she is rocking the slightly shorter length and as with a lot of clothes in the early 80s the color brown is very popular. Bold patterns and neon doesn’t come in until later and we’ve got the ’70s to thank for all the beige tones.

The Americans plaid and spotsPhilip’s taking the Harrison from Scandal approach with plaid and polka dots and this emphasizes not the slick tailoring as it does in Scandal, but rather how unassuming Philip is at work. Philip’s a travel agent not a threat, right?

The Americans 2.02 PhilipWell that’s when Philip’s not donning this delightful wig and moustache combo as he goes for a workman look and as I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere, he looks like he could play 2012’s Rust Cohle’s brother with this getup. Philip definitely gets the skeezier looking disguises and this is reminiscent of his revenge outfit from the pilot. This is far removed from Philip in dad gear as evidenced by Fred not recognizing him from their moment at the theme park, though that was incredibly quick and there was probably very little eye contact.

the Americans 2.02 playboyTo get some 1980s context here is a Playboy that Philip found on his Fred house search and Fred must be a Bo Derk fan as this issue is almost two years old (the date on it is March, 1980). Other headlines of relevance to today is the debate to legalize marijuana and this is when it still probably sounded cool to call it grass.

The Americans 2.02 LifeMore 1980s references ahoy as Elizabeth plays Life with Henry and Paige, I used to love this game and I’m pretty sure the spinning wheel was the reason why. Henry is less interested and wants to watch TV because that is real life. Henry is oblivious to everything once again and earlier in the episodes he explains his theory as to why two tests in one day is a bad idea. Paige is still suspicious and what she witnessed last week hasn’t deterred her snooping.

The Americans 2.02 Elizabeth phoneElizabeth’s wearing more from the brown color spectrum and here comes another ’80s pop culture reference as she suggests a trip to the movies to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark. Despite having come out in the summer of 1981 (we’re now in January 1982), it’s not all that surprising that a movie this huge is still playing in theaters; it didn’t get a VHS release until 1983.

The Americans 2.02 baseball capThe movie decision is so Elizabeth can respond to a call and rather than leave the kids in the house alone, the movie works as a suitable ruse. This is a dark shot, but Elizabeth’s only disguise is pulling back her hair and sticking on a baseball cap. She is dealing with a friend of their cause and this woman is also high on a range of substances so it’s unlikely she will remember much of anything, but it still feels like a bold move when things are at this heightened state of danger.

The Americans 2.02 leather glovesThere are so many tight shots throughout this episode, none tighter than Philip as he talks to Elizabeth, followed by Martha. He’s meant to be going back to Martha’s but down to a combination of what is going on at home and the mark that has been left on his hand after he’s been electrocuted there’s only one place he wants to be. It’s worth noting that Philip puts on the leather gloves while he is on the phone to Martha, as if he is trying to cover the mark even when she can’t see it.

The Americans 2.02 mirrorThis is another interesting use of framing as the closing shot of the episode features Elizabeth and Philip off to one side, shown in the reflection of the mirror. This discussion has Philip once again lamenting his decision to use Henry last week and Elizabeth tells him he didn’t have a choice. Philip’s response is that he did and it’s another occasion where the camera pushes in hard on their close up and it’s like everything is closing in around them.

It’s an incredibly intimate and telling conversation as Elizabeth brings up Jared, Emmett and Leanne’s surviving son and Philip reveals he saw him and heard his screams upon discovering his murdered family. “Taken care of” is a phrase that is lacking any real empathy, it sounds cold and like a transaction. There’s no real answer to this mess and Elizabeth has only just realized the impact that this could have on their children. She asks “How are we going to live like this?” Philip thinks they will get used to it and this is where the question of choice comes up. Elizabeth and Philip decided to become what they are, but Paige and Henry are a product of this and they have no agency of their own. We end on this shot and this line of thought knowing it’s going to have implications for the rest of the season.

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