Monday, February 11, 2013
Review - The Americans
I finally got around to watching the pilot for this new FX spy drama, which maybe tells my excitement for the show. Don't get me wrong, the premise is interesting: KGB agents living undercover as Americans to spy on the U.S. during the Reagan era to get advantage in the Cold War. And I like stars Keri Russell (Felicity) and Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters - is he ever going to get to speak in her real voice? He's British ...) as the lead couple Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings. But admittedly the premiere has been sitting on my DVR for a couple of weeks now, and today I finally watched it.
Overall, it was a decent pilot. In the first minutes, it looked a lot like an episode of Alias (still to date one of the best spy TV series EVER) - Russell's Elizabeth, clad in nothing but lingerie and a wig, is seducing a government official, obviously to obtain important intel. But whereas Sydney Bristow would have knocked the mark out before completing the deed, Elizabeth goes all the way ... and later shows her distaste for it. But, as is driven throughout the episode, she is 100% committed to her job and Mother Russia and will do what is necessary. The mission comes first.
Husband Phillip gets his job done, too - gotta say, these attractive, unassuming people are surprisingly convincing as ass-kicking toughies - but is more ambivalent about it. In fact, he has quite taken to the American way of life and brings up more than once his desire to live his pretend American life - children and all - for real, which would involve the deadly art of defection. He's even willing to make a deal with another defector, Timoshev (David Vadim, One Life to Live), who they captured on orders in the beginning of the epsiodes, to get enough money to disappear into the wind (little did Phillip know that Timoshev raped Elizabeth decades earlier during her "training" in Moscow. Don't worry, Timoshev gets his just desserts from both later ... ).
Complicating matters further for the Jennings is their new neighbor Stan (Noah Emmerich, The Truman Show), who happens to be an FBI agent working in counter-intelligence. Seems Timoshev, prior to his defection and subsequent disappearance, blew the whistle on the Russian-agents-living-among-us operation, provoking the government to step up and take action. The rub? These agents look like us, they speak better English than we do, and they are set up with huge settlement packages so they can blend in within quiet, upscale neighborhoods. Stan's coworker Chris (Maximiliano Hernandez, Ringer) doesn't buy it, but the investigation is pushing forward.
One particularly tense moment - which I'm sure will become a pattern throughout the series - happens when Stan comes by to borrow jumper cables from Phillip. Of course the cables are in the trunk of the car where Timoshev is tied up and gagged. But Phillip calmly retrieves them and closes the hatch just as Stan walks up to the trunk. Whew! Yeah, you knew the outcome and it wasn't particularly that tense, but I'll be nice.
Phillip's desire to flee and Elizabeth's unyielding loyalty to her country does create a nice conflict that is dynamic, thanks much to the talent of the leads. You can see that the affection is very one-sided ... she's just not that into him. That is until he kills Timoshev in her defense. Apparently that's a turn on for Elizabeth, and suddenly it's hot sex in the back seat of the Olds post body-dumping. Ah, romance ...
But because the op has been potentially exposed, Elizabeth and Phillip's job is going to be harder to pull off, which sets up the dramatic drive of the show for the rest of the season. Their kids (Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati) are oblivious to who their parents are, but you can predict at some point one of them is gonna stumble onto something ... they always do.
The show takes place in 1980 and it was cool to see some nice details: the super big sedans, high-waisted Guess jeans, a typewriter (!) and a rotary payphone (!!). They don't seem to be focusing too much on the fashions of the era (like The Carrie Diaries is doing over on the CW ... that takes place in 1984 and fashion plays into the story big time), but these little touches are cool. And the soundtrack for the show is pretty cool and helps support the action, of which there is much (like I said, Russell and Rhys really kick ass, very believably).
Not sure if I'll commit to this series, but I'll certainly give it another couple of episodes before deciding. But I do recommend checking it out for yourselves (the pilot should still be available online and FX tends to replay eps a lot). And with Margo Martindale (Justified) appearing soon and guest stars like Richard Thomas (remember him from The Waltons?), things might get more interesting ...
Bottom Line: K-G-Be ready to give The Americans a chance.
The Americans airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.