Is it possible to live the perfect suburban life while doing some of the most heinous crimes in American history? That's part of the premise behind FX's new show "The Americans," which followed a couple as they tried to keep their lies hidden from everyone. The show's idea may cause some potential challenges, but the overall execution was nearly flawless.
"The Americans" followed Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) who seemed to have the perfect marriage and all of the trappings that went along with living the American dream. They had two happy children and reasonable financial security, but they were actually playing a very big part of the Cold War that took over America in 1981. Philip and Elizabeth were actually KGB spies who were posing as an American married couple that had to play the part, while they were conducting some of the most dangerous missions that threatened to destroy the lies they built. The Jennings were truly afraid that their son Henry (Keidrich Sellati) and their ever evolving daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) would find out the truth if they weren't too careful. Unfortunately, the couple also have to be extra careful after they found out that their new neighbor Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) was an FBI agent. Will the couple be able to complete their dangerous missions with Beeman's presence always being an issue?
In terms of questions, the show has posed a lot of them during the series premiere, but none of them will be answered in the near future. In the months before the show's premiere, many viewers had likely written "The Americans" off as FX's version of "Homeland," but the show was definitely so much more than that. The premiere had established some early hints that the stories would focus on more than the cut and dry aspects of being a spy. The story also seemed to be focused greatly on the complicated relationship between Rhys' Philip and Russell's Elizabeth who seemed to be doing a lot more than their missions. Sure, the couple's relationship was designed as a generic version of spy matchmaking without the romantic attachments. It was also a refreshing change of pace for the show to reveal the Jennings' true identities early on, because the show could now discuss about what led both of them down such a dangerous path. The premiere's most promising story has been how the couple struggled with maintaining their divided loyalties when their true identities seemed like a thing of the past. Something that has been forgotten by the government, and themselves, a long time ago. The show's only flaw was finding a way to balance the flashbacks with the current story scenes, because viewers could easily get irritated from the bouncing back and forth between the past and the present. Let's hope that future episodes try to use less flashbacks, or find a way to tie them in with each episode in a way that's relevant to what's unfolding on the screen.
As for breakout stars, Russell and Rhys led the pack because their characters were literally the central focus of each episode. Both of them had previously successful shows, but their characters were based more in realistic moral dilemmas. On "The Americans," Russell and Rhys were allowed to take risks because their characters were blank canvas after their identities were hidden away by the Russians. Russell played Elizabeth as a woman who would do anything for her country, even if it was at the expense of her own family. She designed Elizabeth to be a ruthless spy who was trying to find her place in the world, but she was often forced to hide her feelings when she shouldn't have to. Rhys, on the other hand, played Philip as a character who wore his emotions like a badge of honor. He might be a master spy, but he was unable to hide his fondness for his KGB wife when he needed to the most. Rhys' most memorable scene was when his character was at his absolute worst. He had killed a man in response to finding out that he hurt his wife in the past. That moment allowed the couple to truly come together for however long the mission allows them to. It's too early to say how the show will handle the growing tension between the Jennings and their new FBI agent neighbor, but the story appeared to show some initial promise. Only time will tell if that's the case.
"The Americans" premiered on January 30th and airs Wednesdays at 10:00 PM on FX.
Verdict: The show has the potential to be a hit, but it still needs to find the right balance between the past and the present stories.
TV Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)