The 1987 television miniseries Amerika is barely remembered these days, and is regarded as one of the biggest flops in television history. And it was a flop, there is no disputing that. Amerika was a seven night, fourteen-and-a-half hour marathon miniseries depicting life in the US one decade after a Soviet takeover. Preceding its release, ABC embarked on an advertising blitzkrieg that would make Guderian and Rommel envious. Amerika’s subject created tremendous controversy not only in the United States but around the world. The Soviet Union complained, and so did the United Nations, which was portrayed as an instrument under Moscow’s control. Liberals and leftists here in the States opposed the miniseries, believing it would be nothing more than seven nights of right wing anti-Soviet propaganda along the lines of Red Dawn.
The story takes place in 1997, ten years after the Soviets assume control of the United States. Most of the miniseries takes place around the fictional town of Milford, Nebraska located in the Central Administrative Area. Two of the three main characters, and a large number of secondary ones, are residents of Milford. The film follows the lives of three men and the people around them as they navigate the new world and simultaneously attempt to salvage something from the old United States in the process. The main character is Devin Milford played by Kris Kristofferson. Milford is a maverick politician who was sent to a prison camp after speaking truthfully about the Soviet occupation while running for president in 1988. At the start of the miniseries Milford is just released from prison having been deemed ‘rehabilitated’ by authorities. Peter Bradford (Robert Urich), a former friend and present rival of Milford’s is the second main character. He is a county administrator in Nebraska who cooperates with the Soviets in order to create better conditions for his county. He attracts the attention of the Soviets and is tagged for political advancement. The third main character is a Russian: KGB Colonel Andrei Denisov, head of the Central Administrative Area (Largely made up of the American Midwest) who is somewhat sympathetic to Americans and tries to create a new country that his political masters in Moscow will not consider a threat. Sam Neill plays Denisov and like The Hunt for Red October, in this film Neill does not see Montana. 😊
The plot of the miniseries revolves around these three men. Milford attempts to reunite with his children while simultaneously rekindling his popularity among the American people. Bradford is tapped for higher office and is learning that the new post will be that of essentially the first leader of a new nation. Denisov, along with his superior in Washington is attempting to create a peaceful Balkanization of the United States that will appease the Politburo, which fears a resurrected US and wants to take extreme steps to make sure this never happens. These three men maneuver amid the political drama, and Soviet plans to break up the US. Along the way each one plays a role, inadvertent or otherwise, in supporting the Soviet plans, or opposing them.
Through the miniseries, practically every character, major and otherwise, has a moment where they come to terms with what they’ve lost personally, and as a country. Some vow to fight and do whatever it takes to regain some semblance of the former United States in their lives. Others accept the situation for what it is and try to get by as best they can. And of course there’s a smaller group just looking for opportunities. Opportunists, and collaborators.
Overall, it was a great concept undone by shoddy execution. Fourteen plus hours is far too long to keep the attention of any audience.. The miniseries drags on pointlessly and with no end in sight. It becomes a series of lectures, and stereotypes delivered by not completely developed characters. The first two nights produced solid ratings but after that they nosedived. The critics weren’t very kind with their reviews either. All of this combined to push Amerika deep into the dust bin of history, and helped bring about the end of the miniseries on major networks.
Perhaps the most compelling part of Amerika was the backstory explaining just how the Soviets had conquered the United States. In the story, the Soviet Union was in decline and in danger of losing the Cold War. The Politburo agreed on a plan to rearrange the balance of power in favor of the Soviet Union once and for all. Four nuclear warheads were detonated at the edge of space over the US bringing on an EMP event that cripples the nations electrical grid, and severely damages equipment and devices that rely on computer technology. The president cannot communicate with the US military at home or abroad to order a counterattack. He has no choice but to accept Soviet terms for a surrender: Unilateral disarmament, the end of the dollar as the global reserve currency, and integration of the US into the Soviet military/economic bloc. Soviet occupation soon follows, and soon the president, and Congress are relegated to the status of figureheads
Interesting backstory. Realistic? No. However, it might’ve been better for Amerika to focus on a period of time immediately after the surrender to see how a group of average Americans respond to having their nation conquered, and lives turned upside down practically overnight. I’d pay money to watch a miniseries, or read a novel based on that.
As for Amerika, it would take a 10 year sentence in the Gulag for me to even consider watching it from start to finish now.