Wednesday night we saw the premiere of the new FX drama series The Americans. The show, which has been heavily promoted in the weeks leading up to the premiere, focuses on a pair of Russian spies hiding in plain sight in suburban Washington D.C.
The year is 1980, Ronald Reagan has just been sworn in as President, and we meet Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings who are raising their two young children in a nice neighborhood outside Washington. What no one knows, nobody at all, is that they are Russian spies.
The first episode begins with a bang. Elizabeth disguised as a hottie has been picked up by an American agent and been, shall we say, very complying of his wishes. Engaging in pillow talk, just like all the spy novels, she learns that this man will be meeting with a Russian defector when he comes to D.C Next we are catapulted to a frenetic scene that ends with said defector in Phillip and Elizabeth’s trunk in their ’77 Oldsmobile.
Over the course of ninety minutes we learn some of the backstory of this couple. Brought in as teenagers and trained to be KGB agents they were made a couple for the purpose of their mission. When Phillip learns that their defector was given three million dollars by the United States he questions if perhaps he and his wife should consider that option. His kids are fully Americanized, they recite the National Anthem and follow American sports, he values them above his mission. His wife, played by Kerri Russell, is more dedicated. Calling herself a KGB officer when she shuns her husbands plan she makes clear that nothing is more important than the mission.
The efforts to place the storyline and the characters in 1980 America are very thorough. With music from Quarterflash, Fleetwood Mac, and, in a scene where Phillip takes his daughter to the mall, Juice Newton, one easily feels like they have been transported. Having been in high school in the time frame of the show I can remember clearly the fears of some people about Reagan and what he might do to exacerbate the Cold War. In the series the Russian spy masters in Moscow are portrayed to have had these same fears.
In having the ” heroes” of the show be Russian spies there is a risk. Will viewers have a hard time liking the characters, rooting for them. I think that will not be a problem, certainly since we learned to love Tony Soprano the liking and investing in an antihero has not been a problem.
The show is fast moving, violent, and sexy. Contrasting the spy with the dull yuppie suburbanites is fairly original. Certainly the Jennings blend into the neighborhood very well. It is hard to imagine them ever being detected in their little safe haven. That all changes when the family delivers some brownies to some new folks who just moved in down the street. When Phil asks the Dad what he does for a living and is told that he is an FBI agent, one we know, as viewers, we had seen earlier in the episode,we learn that life is about to get much more interesting.
This series has a great deal of potential. FX is fast becoming the network of choice, outside of the premium channels such as HBO and Showtime of course, and The Americans will increase that perception.
If you are one of those folks who debates investing in a show for fears of it not lasting I would urge you not to worry. This show will be a success and right away has the potential to be one of the best shows on television