FX didn’t used to be known for their high quality programing. Then shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, An American Horror Story, and The League took the network to a new level. Now they are poised to climb a little higher in priority on your DVR at the end of January with the introduction of the ’80s spy drama, The Americans.
For most of 2012 FX has been running teaser commercials for The Americans that left viewers little to infer, besides the commies are coming. Featuring the hammer, star, and sickle that any fan of James Bond movies gone by would recognize as the former sigil of the red empire of mother Russia, these teasers did their job sparking my interest.
Philip (Matthew Rhys, Brothers and Sister) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell, Felicity) are just like any other American family living in the quiet suburbs of Washington D.C. in 1981. They take their two children to school and hockey practice, share dinner together, and love family game night. But things aren’t always what they seem. Philip and Elizabeth are quite believable as travel agents, but the truth is they are actually sleeper agents for the KGB that infiltrated the United States nearly 20 years prior.
The United States Government knows that such agents exist within our midst. The FBI’s counter intelligence division spends much of their time rooting out and destroying these cells. It is a dangerous job for Philip and Elizabeth that requires them to frequently put their lives, and the lives of their family, at risk. Besides the obvious conflicts, this show is rife with other stresses to keep you drawn in.
The couple’s arranged marriage is anything but perfect. The conflict between the married couple has more complexities than Donald Trump’s hairpiece. We learn quickly that their missions call for 100% commitment to the cause first, which means they can’t attempt to apply some type of moral code or marital value system when completing a mission is at stake. Seduction is a powerful tool, and both Philip and Elizabeth know how to use it well. While their marriage may have been arranged, it is clear that they have come to love each other. As we join this family these sacrifices are clearly beginning to become more difficult. This relationship is made more complex by the 3 million dollar deal that the FBI offers any Russian sleeper agents to defect and turn over all of their information about their mission. Their marriage may have started as a lie as did the “manufacturing” of their children, but it is clear that their love for their family is real. Amnesty and enough money to live comfortably is an enticing deal for Philip and the source of many heated marital “conversations.”
The first episode does a great job of setting the scene and your expectations for the show. We quickly learn that these two agents are highly trained and are willing to go the distance to bring victory to Russia. The show does a great job of reminding you what year it is with some fantastic little details like Keri Russell’s high-waisted mom-jeans, “hi-tech” gadgets that make a calculator look amazing, and even a bit of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” in the background.
The acting by the entire cast is pretty great, but Matthew Rhys is the standout, for sure. Philip is much more conflicted than the other characters and Rhys does a wonderful job of capturing the complexities of Philip’s decisions. Russell makes a fantastic debut in her first staring role since the days of fun-loving Felicity. Each actor in the show does such a great job that you might even find yourself rooting for the KGB. This show is most certainly worth giving a shot. I enjoyed every minute.
The Americans premiers on FX on January 30th and will play on Wednesday nights at 10pm.