Television
Entertainment Television

TV review: Fly the flag for FX's 'The Americans'

If you've been around long enough to remember the 1980s, you know it wasn't just about Madonna, parachute pants and big hair.

In 1981, just after Ronald Reagan became president and called the Soviet Union the "evil empire," tensions between the two countries were at an all-time high. The Cold War was freezing, with mutual paranoia fueling an arms race and unleashing spies on both sides.

"The Americans" (9 p.m. CT Jan. 30, FX; 3 stars out of 4), the exciting but frustrating spy thriller from former CIA employee and writer-executive producer Joe Weisberg, skillfully captures the anxiety of the age.

Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell star as Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, a happily married American couple living in a Washington, D.C., suburb. As the show begins, they are running a travel agency and raising 13-year-old daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) and son Henry (Keidrich Sellati), 10.

They're also KGB-trained Soviet spies who conduct dangerous espionage missions, such as kidnapping a Soviet defector in the series premiere, an assignment that leads to an FBI hunt for the 1977 Oldsmobile they are driving.

Rhys and Russell are wonderful, equally convincing as rather dull parents and dangerous spies, albeit in different places as far as where their loyalities lie.

Elizabeth is more committed to their mission. "Are you joking? Is this a joke?" she asks a disillusioned Phillip when he suggests they defect for a big CIA payoff. Yet Elizabeth feels the strain of putting country before family, too. She can't stand the idea of her children growing up in the culture she despises, but there isn't much she can do about it. Unlike Phillip, she doesn't fully embrace their arranged marriage, but she fears what will happen to the family if one of them is caught.

Their complicated relationship plays out just as tensely as any of their missions. "The Americans" is a fascinating look at what they're willing to do for each other and their country.

It also stumbles into conventional Hollywood storytelling.

It's a happy coincidence for the U.S. government--and the script writers, I guess--when the FBI's hot new counterintelligence agent Stan Beeman (smartly played Noah Emmerich) moves in next door to the Jennings family. When Stan asks Phillip for jumper cables, Phillip leads him into the garage and opens the trunk of his Olds, in which the kidnapped KGB officer is bound and gagged.

Now if I were the kidnap victim in the trunk, I'd try my damndest to signal Stan. But that doesn't happen. Maybe he sleeps as soundly as the Jennings kids, who never notice their parents leaving at night or hear the commotion from the garage when the KGB agent tries to escape.

I also laughed when suspicious Stan offered Phillip some caviar--you know, Russian caviar. What, if he likes fish eggs he's a Soviet spy? Lucky for Phillip, he thinks they're too salty.

Lucky for us, too, because despite such slips, I can't wait to find out how long Phillip and Elizabeth can maintain their lie.

DVR ALERT: "The Americans" premiere last 97 minutes, so make sure to give your recording some extra time.

Want more? Discuss this article and others on Show Patrol's Facebook page

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Lolla day 2: Best and worst, plus superlatives

    Lolla day 2: Best and worst, plus superlatives

    And just like that, there’s only one day left of Lolla. Here’s what stood out to us from day 2. Best: The Tallest Man on Earth: Maybe it was just a right-mood, right-set situation, but boy this was the perfect mid-day act to take a breather, sit in the sun, and just chill and listen to and enjoy....

  • 50 Cent at Parliament and Wyclef Jean at The Underground

    50 Cent at Parliament and Wyclef Jean at The Underground

    Shots in The Dark at Parliament Nightclub with 50 Cent and The Underground Nightclub with Wyclef Jean and Joey Fatone July 31st

  • Lolla day 1: Best and worst, plus superlatives

    Lolla day 1: Best and worst, plus superlatives

    One day down! Here’s the best and worst we saw at Lolla on Friday, plus a few superlatives from day 1. Best: Anyone who knows me knows I was bound to pick Paul McCartney as my favorite act of the day. The Beatle came out and gave it his all with more than two hours of hits, tributes and jokes about...

  • Lolla day 1: Let's just rename it Paul-apalooza

    Lolla day 1: Let's just rename it Paul-apalooza

    What can you really say about Sir Paul McCartney, the former Beatle, pop music pioneer, worldwide cultural icon, and all-around great guy, that hasn't already been said? I mean, seriously. With the Beatles changing music for the better, becoming a pop culture institution and being "more popular...

  • Aldermen looking to stop stores from getting around plastic bag ban

    Aldermen looking to stop stores from getting around plastic bag ban

    Chicago's ban on plastic bags starts to take effect at many big stores Saturday, but an alderman who helped craft the law already is talking about changing it in order to thwart a few large retail chains that he says are trying to skirt the new rules.

  • State police: Man shot while riding in van on Eisenhower

    State police: Man shot while riding in van on Eisenhower

    A man was shot multiple times while traveling in a minivan on the inbound Eisenhower Expressway on Friday morning, authorities said.

Comments
Loading
92°