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'The Americans' review: More family, more suspense

My heart sank when I heard the new season of FX's spy thriller "The Americans" (9 p.m. Wednesday, FX; 4 stars out of 4) would focus more on Cold War spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings' family. Remember how the momentum of Showtime's "Homeland" crashed to a halt whenever the story turned to Nicholas Brody's moody daughter Dana? Nothing kills drama like a sulking teen.

"The Americans" focuses more on family in Season 2, but not at the expense of the suspense that made the first season a must-see. Five episodes into the new season, the creative team led by producers Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg are charging forward with even more intrigue, deception, disguises and duplicity.

Set in 1981 when President Ronald Reagan was winning the Cold War against the Soviet Union, "The Americans" follows that war through the eyes of Soviet spies Philip and Elizabeth (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell), who live in a Washington suburb with their teenage daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), and younger son, Henry (Keidrich Sellati).

They run a travel agency and live next door to FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and his family. Stan doesn't know they also trap, coerce, rough up and sometimes kill enemies of Mother Russia. Neither do their kids. As was the case in the first season, Philip and Elizabeth have to lie to everyone to survive in enemy territory, including to their own children.

Unlike in "Homeland," the show's main conceit grows even more complex and fascinating by including the Jennings kids. Their interactions emphasize just how important Paige and Henry are to their parents and the story.

And oh, how the tangled web of lies creeps into every area of the show. Paige lies to her parents, who are lying to her but don't want her to lie to them. Noah, who is having an affair with Soviet embassy worker Nina (Annet Mahendru), is lying to his wife about his long work hours. He has no idea that Nina is a Soviet double agent, and obviously is lying to him. Philip also leads an undercover life as "Clark," the husband of Martha (Alison Wright), who is the secretary to Noah's boss, Special Agent Gaad (Richard Thomas).

The new season picks up shortly after last year's cliffhanger finale, with Elizabeth returning home after recovering from a gunshot wound suffered as she and Philip escaped from an FBI trap. Philip and Elizabeth have decided theirs is more than a pretend marriage and have become a more united front. But their feelings for each other can't stop the madness, and a disastrous mission with another spy couple throws them into a panic. How can they protect their children? How can they keep their true identities concealed? And who has sold them out?

Add another hyphen to the spy thriller-family drama: This new whodunit element drums up even greater tension.

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Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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