Considering how many series airing that have to do with espionage in the era of 9/11, it's rather refreshing to see a series that deals with America in a period that so many look back on with fondness (for some reason) during the peak of the Reagan Era Cold War. So FX's The Americans manages to mix being a period piece with a Cold War thriller, and manages to do both fairly brilliantly.
Elizabeth and Philip (Keri Russell & Matthew Rhys) play Philip and Elizabeth, two Soviet sleeper agents who have disguised themselves as the typical D.C. family, with two young children. Both are involved in so many deep cover ploys that it can be hard for the uninitiated (and, I imagine, some of the initiated) to keep track of them all. Supposed to love Mother Russia first and foremost, part of the major drama comes from how they deal with love in their life--- love for each other (which has come gradually) and love for their children (which came instantly). But recently, their daughter--- rapidly closing in on adolescence--- has begun to suspect is not kosher with her parents-- in essence, she's spying on them. Elizabeth is now worried not only what happens if her daughter finds out, but what if something should happen to them? The worry was driven home in a recent episode where two similar sleeper agents who they were friends with were murdered on a visit to D.C. Moscow's plan is to 'handle' children --- even they can't face above the euphemism.
As if that weren't enough of a concern, one of their neighbors is an FBI agent (Noah Emmerich) who has been tasked with finding Soviet agents. He is involved with a woman at the Russian Embassy, and both are involved in a game of dominance which has both agents trying to outwit the other. Recently, both have been concern by a walk-in to the Embassy working at an aviation firm.
For lack of time, I didn't engage in this series when it premiered last year, but it has a depth and subtlety that so many of the other FX series lack. There's sex and violence, to be sure, but it's reflected with a sense of irony. In the second season premiere, Philip impersonated an American from the state department, trying to supply arms to the Afghans against the Soviets, neither side knowing that this particular venture will eventually destroy both nations. Then there's the added wit of the FBI agent trying to woo his Soviet attachee with a 1980's videotape of The French Lieutenant's Woman.
There are aspect of concerns with the series. Espionage stories with children involved were death knells for 24 and Homeland. And the FBI agent not knowing that the spies he's targeting live next door is a little too close to Breaking Bad for my taste. But the writing and acting are as good or better than almost everything else on basic cable, and with a guest cast featuring Richard Thomas and John Carroll Lynch, it's has a pretty deep bench. It's one of the more engaging spy works I've seen since the early days of Alias, and that was good stuff.