Review: The Americans: S1

On May 4, 2013 by Jim Law

I guess living through the 80s was a drastically different experience as an adult. My concept of the cold war was shaped by `Saturday Night Live` skits, a ROCKY movie, and Nikolai Volkoff dropping mean renditions of the Russian national anthem before his WWF matches. I was a twitchy little Canadian kid with an addiction to Coca Cola and no real concern for world politics or the threat of nuclear devastation. This is what makes The Americans so interesting to me. While the scenery and the soundtrack seem familiar, the subject matter is all very mysterious. It feels like some dark unspoken secret being pulled from my childhood.

There’s every opportunity for The Americans to drown itself in clichés. Espionage clichés. Will they/won’t they relationship clichés. Even clichés of the era (see: THE WEDDING SINGER). Thankfully, all of this takes a backseat to story. Much like its main characters, The Americans focuses on the job at hand. Nothing else matters because it’s all for show. Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) are Russian spies living the American dream. At a distance they look like your average blue-collar family – running a respectable Travel Agency and raising two centered children while keeping a tight lawn in the middle of suburbia. Get a little closer and you’ll start to see the cracks. Covers are almost blown, fake marriages start to crumble, children start to hitchhike, and lots of people die.the_americans_lg

My “turn-the-channel-forever” moment came early in the season here. The moment we realize the Jennings have moved across the street from FBI agent, and Russian spy stomper, Stan Beeman (the great Noah Emmerich), I was legitimately scared that this show was going to be more Bosom  Buddies than Homeland. The conflict is, impressively, taken head-on shortly after it arises. Not that the tension is taken out of the relationship, let’s just say it’s allowed to breathe a little bit as it underscores the rest of the series-long drama.

And drama there is. The Russians have moles in FBI offices, the FBI have moles in Russian diplomat’s offices, everybody’s boss is a dick, most characters cheat with other characters, women get punched in the face (a lot), and there’s a recurring fake mustache that makes everybody feel uncomfortable. The show seems to develop pride in itself and the courage to pull of some big moves as it briskly moves along. Characters are introduced slowly and with care so we can really get to know them before they’re killed off. It’s admirable yet frustrating as a viewer. There are definitely some people let go too soon here.AmericansNoah

Keri Russell is solid as the patriotic Elizabeth Jennings. She might have more action scenes than monologues to deal with here but she steps up to the plate wherever needed. Matthew Rhys might be even better. His effortless method of delivering lines adds confidence and an unsettling casualness to some of the wacky situations he gets himself into. Noah Emmerich’s flawed Stan Beeman is truly the highlight of the show for me. He’s a solid guy that keeps making the worst possible decisions. These lead to more bad decisions and eventually bad news for everybody involved (in the world). Add a handful of fantastic supporting roles by Margo Martindale, Richard Thomas, Maximiliano Hernandez, and Derek Luke and you have a pretty great freshman season for FX. Even for a clueless Canadian that thought, for years, that Jodie Foster shot President Reagan.

The Americans: Season One Rating 8/10

Comments are closed.