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

 

You Might Also Like

A Double Life
  • January 01, 2021

A Double Life

On the life and mysteries of one of history's most famous sleeper spies, Konon Molody.
The Hunt for Movie Russian
  • September 14, 2020

The Hunt for Movie Russian

"Kakov nipudt pakaru!" The classic 1990 movie Hunt for Red October had a $30 million budget. Apparently none of that went towards Russian language coaches.
The Actor-Agents of the KGB
  • February 01, 2020

The Actor-Agents of the KGB

A former KGB agent recently claimed that many Soviet celebrities, including multiple famous actors, were agents of the “special services."
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The Frogs Who Begged for a Tsar

The fables of Ivan Krylov are rich fonts of Russian cultural wisdom and experience – reading and understanding them is vital to grasping the Russian worldview. This new edition of 62 of Krylov’s tales presents them side-by-side in English and Russian. The wonderfully lyrical translations by Lydia Razran Stone are accompanied by original, whimsical color illustrations by Katya Korobkina.
Murder and the Muse

Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

In this comprehensive, quixotic and addictive book, Edwin Trommelen explores all facets of the Russian obsession with vodka. Peering chiefly through the lenses of history and literature, Trommelen offers up an appropriately complex, rich and bittersweet portrait, based on great respect for Russian culture.
Moscow and Muscovites

Moscow and Muscovites

Vladimir Gilyarovsky's classic portrait of the Russian capital is one of Russians’ most beloved books. Yet it has never before been translated into English. Until now! It is a spectactular verbal pastiche: conversation, from gutter gibberish to the drawing room; oratory, from illiterates to aristocrats; prose, from boilerplate to Tolstoy; poetry, from earthy humor to Pushkin. 
93 Untranslatable Russian Words

93 Untranslatable Russian Words

Every language has concepts, ideas, words and idioms that are nearly impossible to translate into another language. This book looks at nearly 100 such Russian words and offers paths to their understanding and translation by way of examples from literature and everyday life. Difficult to translate words and concepts are introduced with dictionary definitions, then elucidated with citations from literature, speech and prose, helping the student of Russian comprehend the word/concept in context.
Steppe / Степь

Steppe / Степь

This is the work that made Chekhov, launching his career as a writer and playwright of national and international renown. Retranslated and updated, this new bilingual edition is a super way to improve your Russian.
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
Survival Russian

Survival Russian

Survival Russian is an intensely practical guide to conversational, colloquial and culture-rich Russian. It uses humor, current events and thematically-driven essays to deepen readers’ understanding of Russian language and culture. This enlarged Second Edition of Survival Russian includes over 90 essays and illuminates over 2000 invaluable Russian phrases and words.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts


Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567

802-223-4955