February 26, 2021

Get Your Cold War On


Get Your Cold War On
The fictional New York Global blares the headline: "Kennedy demands immediate withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba." Valery Todorovsky Production Company

Russians obsessed with Cold War-era spy thrillers had a great week in mid-February when "The Optimists: Season 2 (Caribbean Season)" aired for two hours every night. The first season of the miniseries aired back in April 2017 on channel Rossiya-1.

The central plot is (warning: spoilers ahead!) a 1960s love story between a man who works in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Dmitry Nesterov played by Sergey Bezrukov) and an American photographer (Alex Bradley played by Elizaveta Boyarskaya). The star-crossed lovers give up their relationship to save the world: Alex has to leave the Soviet Union forever to inform JFK that Khrushchev is not trying to start World War III during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Who, then, are the titular "optimists?" It is not entirely clear, but it is presumably the foreign affairs staff, who believe they are building a better future for their country and world. Or perhaps it is the ill-fated lovers, who have become personae non grata in each other's countries but have a scrap of hope when Nesterov is posted to Vietnam in the closing scene.

In an interview, Boyarskaya stated that her inspiration for the role was Jacqueline Kennedy.

Scene from "The Optimists"
This is the face of every American who finds herself in Russia: Elizaveta Boyarskaya as Alex Bradley. | Valery Todorovsky Production Company

Minnesotan-Michigander Odin Biron plays Bradley's husband; his natural American accent can be heard under the Russian dubbing, but he trained as an actor at the Moscow Art Theatre.

Oh, and Che Guevara is there too, played by Spanish actor Andreas Muñoz. Check out a clip of Che Guevara: The Musical! ("Cuba is a dream!"), the show within the show, here.

One Russian site claims that "The Optimists" feels more American than Russian. It has a definite "The Americans" vibe – but with the action taking place across the pond and the cutaway shots going in the opposite direction. Maybe it feels American because the Soviet diplomats constantly drink alcohol, smoke foreign cigarettes, and sleep with everyone but their spouses. In a word, they are immoral.

The show is full of double agents and people you didn't know were agents, making for exciting, if not entirely original, Cold War nostalgia television.

Intro to "The Optimists"
Playing with submarines and sugar cubes to make Cuban rum in the opening credits. | Valery Todorovsky Production Company

 

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