The Americans, the new FX drama series, aired its first episode on January 30, 2013. Running slightly longer than an hour, the plot follows two KGB “sleeper” agents, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), living in the United States and posing as Americans. Their most recent task is to capture a former KGB officer who went rogue and bring him to their superiors. The mission goes wrong, resulting in their partner’s death. Forced to keep their detainee in the trunk of their Oldsmobile until they decide what can be done with him, the pressure mounts. Besides the fact that they have to keep up appearances for their children, who do not know their parents' true origins, new neighbors move in, one of whom works for the FBI.
Such a unique idea and its execution display great promise. Some of the success lies in the restraint of the creators. Firstly, instead of casting very ostentatiously fit, action heroes, they chose actors who actually look like normal, everyday Americans. Matthew Rhys is certainly one of the least expected choices to play a macho role, but he rises to the demands of the character and layers it with a certain level of vulnerability. Russell is the more aggressive one of the two, but when she is off the clock, her physicality does not indicate in any way that she is a trained fighter. Consequently, the casting of both Rhys and Russell make it believable as to why their characters go unsuspected for so many years.
As the series is set during the 1980’s when Reagan is president, the set decorations, costumes, and filming style could have easily gone over the top to evoke the era. Instead, the creators took a much more subtle approach, summoning the decade with the soundtrack and simple wardrobe pieces, such as high-waisted jeans. Had they done the reverse, it would have made the episode more of a farce.
Overall, the concept calls for a delicate balance between the two different lives that Phillip and Elizabeth lead, as an arranged, married couple and as KGB agents. The episode equally conveys both with all the complexities involved. Phillip is shown as a family guy, always playing games with his children, and Elizabeth demonstrates her trust in Phillip when she shares secrets of her past with him. Yet, they both still know that they have a job to do and leading a married life is a part of that. Therefore, the pilot sets up many issues to be worked out over the course of the season, and as long as it continues in a similar fashion, The Americans might just be the new show to watch.