TV Review: The Americans

Fun fact: Keri Russell married an ordinary dude - a carpenter - introduced by mutual friends. (FX)

Fun fact: Keri Russell married an ordinary dude – a carpenter – introduced by mutual friends. (FX)

I’m hopelessly stuck in the ’80s thanks to the new FX series “The Americans,” starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as your average Russian spies next door. Like many good TV series such as “Mad Men” and “The Wire,” this one manages to immerse viewers in both time and tone, from tacky ’80s fashion to Cold War paranoia.

When viewers are initially introduced to the couple’s deadly game of cat-and-mouse on the darkened streets of D.C., the hypnotic, tribal drumbeat of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” hauntingly plays in the background:

Why don’t you tell me what’s going on
Why don’t you tell me who’s on the phone

What’s going on? Ronald Reagan just took office, the U.S. and USSR have thousands of nukes pointed at each other and USC (whose marching band provides the drumbeat heard in “Tusk” as you can see) was starting another decade as a college football powerhouse. In the show, an FBI counterintelligence unit seeks to root out KGB agents living under deep cover in the U.S.

Enter Russell and Rhys, who have been posing as a married couple for years – long enough for them to raise two children who have no idea their parents are real-life versions of Boris and Natasha(The couple’s cover? They run a travel agency out of Dupont Circle. Ridiculous, the rent would be outrageous.)

Russell steals the show as Elizabeth, who brings an intensity (and baggage, as you discover in the premiere) as the colder, more vicious half of the spy couple. Russell has gotten a little older and just a bit worn around the edges since “Felicity” made her a star, but haven’t we all? She’s still gorgeous – as some of her targets have discovered in the first few episodes.

Rhys is perfect as Elizabeth’s everyman husband, Philip – a bit nerdy in his white-man ‘fro, knee-high tube socks and morning racquetball games, but equally cunning when it’s time to track down ex-KGB turncoats flaunting their treason on the American public speaking circuit. Unlike Elizabeth, Philip isn’t convinced that America is that bad, after all.

Who’s on the phone? Perhaps my handler, comrade. Or perhaps my wayward pizza delivery man. Watching Elizabeth and Philip’s marriage evolve in the midst of spy-versus-spy chaos makes this show utterly watchable for the wife and I. Their dialogue – especially the arguments – sound like that were lifted directly from any busy couple that saw its last honeymoon luau a long time ago. Says Elizabeth, when she sees a photo of a partly clothed woman Philip is (literally) pumping for information: “You didn’t tell me she looked like that.”

No reply from Philip, eager to change the subject. Awkward silence, looking busy but really doing nothing. Yep, that’s realism.

The show’s third wheel is Noah Emmerich, who plays an FBI agent who moves next door to Elizabeth and Philip in their cozy suburban Falls Church, Va. neighborhood. Emmerich is the kind of talented character actor whom you’ve probably seen in scores of movies, but can never quite remember his name – Jim Carrey’s best friend in “The Truman Show” and the ill-fated CDC doctor from “The Walking Dead.” He puts in a solid performance as workaholic agent Stan Beeman, whose crumbling home life is a shadow of his successful career.

Put on your Member’s Only jacket, Ivan. Pull up those waist-high jeans, Olga. “The Americans” airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX. Viewer discretion is advised, especially during scenes featuring sexual coercion and violence – of which there are plenty.

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About Chairman Mao

I like fomenting socialist revolutions and purging my homeland of pseudo-intellectualism and capitalist dogma. I also like sports, dogs and food (although I wouldn't consider myself a foodie).
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One Response to TV Review: The Americans

  1. Jen says:

    We love this show!

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