Categorised | US TV reviews

Review: The Americans 1x1 (FX/FX Canada/ITV)

Posted on February 4, 2013 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

FX - The Americans

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, FX
In Canada: Wednesdays,10pm ET/PT 8pm MT, FX Canada
In the UK: Acquired by ITV

There's a lot of nostalgia for the 80s at the moment. Okay, so the 60s and 70s have largely been done to death on TV now thanks to Mad Men, That 70s Show et al and the population is ageing, but right now, it's the 80s that have all the buzz. Maybe it's those conservatives and their love of Ronald Reagan. Maybe it's the fashionistas. Certainly, The Carrie Diaries is giving teenagers who weren't even alive back then a chance to indulge in the decade of crazy fashions, MTV and Ferris Bueller.

What The Carrie Diaries doesn't give anyone is a good old nostalgic feeling for the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the possible imminent death of everyone on the planet in a nuclear war. It won't even include the Twin Towers in the Manhattan skyline in case it bums anyone out.

But The Americans, FX's latest wander down the path of darkness, dares to love the Cold War, when times were simpler and you largely knew where the enemy was: either the Soviet Union or the Soviet embassy down the block - certainly not in a cave somewhere. Well, except for those sleeper agents, of course…

But it goes one step further still and dares to love the Soviets. Because The Americans, set in 1981, follows Keri Russell (last seen on Running Wilde) and Wales' own Matthew Rhys (a Brothers and Sisters alum, so well versed in the art of faking an American accent) as a pair of Soviet sleeper agents who have spent 15 years in the US pretending to be an everyday couple next door. Trained to blend in with suburbia, they even have two kids, although whether those kids were conceived out of love or a desire to convert the American populace to socialism is a thorny subject.

Yes, after 15 years of living like Americans, our undercover couple - who are still spying, seducing and killing for the Soviets - are starting to wonder if the Yanks are really as bad as all that. Have they been changed? Is their will breaking? Or are they still good comrades? At the very least, they're hoping that the FBI agent who's moved in next door doesn't discover who they are before they've decided for themselves…

Here's a trailer:

About (via Wikipedia)
The Americans is an American television series, created by Joe Weisberg, a former CIA officer turned screenwriter, which premiered on January 30, 2013, on the FX network. It is a 1980s Cold War drama about a group of Soviet KGB officers who have been trained to impersonate American citizens, so that each one can become a sleeper agent, with a cover which may even include an unwitting spouse and family

Is it any good?
It's pretty good. It has that characteristic lack of heart you find with pretty much any FX show, but it's a damn sight better than a lot of them.

The show is clever in showing us the Cold War from the Soviets' side. Ronald Reagan may just be trying to convince the Soviets he's crazy so he can bankrupt them and force them to come to a rapprochement, but from the Soviet perspective, the US has just elected a crazy man and they're now on a war footing. It's a people that are scared, and understandably so, so when they're spying on US citizens, it doesn't seem as unjustified as all that. Maybe that's just the distance time gives us - it would be hard to do a similar al Qaeda-based show right now - but these are well trained professionals, doing their job, trying to sort out right from wrong. And when you're sitting there, watching our 'heroes' sitting through the now-ridiculous anti-Soviet propaganda that High Schools and TV of the time were feeding the population with, it's hard not to feel sympathetic towards both them and the real Soviets.

The show is also happy to do all those things we love in spy shows: fight scenes, seduction scenes, car chases, lurking in the dark, covert break-ins and more. The fight scenes are excellent, if a little too slick; the seduction scenes, which require Russell to wear an improbable wig, are less so; but the whole thing is extremely tense.

Actually, a lot of the tension comes from whether our 'heroes' will give themselves away. Matthew Rhys' character may be a spy, but he is a father and when that hulk of a guy comes on to his 13-year-old daughter, the audience wants him to use his awesome fighting skills to take him down, even if he'd end up blowing his cover.

Rhys is by far the more plausible and versatile actor, flipping between disguise, character and accent with alacrity, although bizarrely, the accent he's settled on for his default does sound slightly hollow. Russell, playing a more brittle character anyway, has less to do, and is less capable at it - her Russian accent is particularly dreadful - but does reasonably well playing a cold, emotionless devotee of communism.

Other than the onward march of history, though, what the show lacks is a driver. Although the show gives us dilemmas - the guy next door who thinks there's something fishy about his new neighbours and the relative lack of commitment Rhys's character to the mission has compared with his wife whom he loves, even if she doesn't love him (at least, not yet) - and missions, we don't have a real hook, something for our heroes to be doing other than not getting discovered unless they want to be. So it's not quite as captivating as perhaps it could be.

Nevertheless, it's a good start and hopefully in the next couple of episodes, the show will give us a better draw and allow Russell to loosen up a bit or at least get more engaging. At the moment, The Americans is an interesting and moody period piece, albeit one in which not quite everyone is as convincingly 80s as perhaps they should be, as well as an interesting character piece, so worth a look in for an episode or two at least. But it's not quite a full on recommend from me - yet.

Related entries

  • February 16, 2013: Third-episode verdict: The Americans (FX/FX Canada/ITV)
    A review of the first three episodes of FX's The Americans, starring Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell
  • April 15, 2013: Review: Doctor Who - 7x9 - Cold War
    A review of the Doctor Who episode Cold War
  • September 25, 2013: Mini-review: The Goldbergs 1x1 (ABC)
    A mini-review of ABC's The Goldbergs
  • January 8, 2014: Mini-review: The Assets 1x1 (ABC)
    A mini-review of ABC’s The Assets
  • January 15, 2015: Review: Man Seeking Woman 1x1 (US: FXX)
    A review of FXX’s Man Seeking Woman
  • February 9, 2015: Review: Allegiance 1x1 (US: NBC)
    A review of the first episode of NBC’s Allegiance
  • February 16, 2015: What have you been watching? Including Gallipoli, The Slap (US) and The Doctor Blake Mysteries
    A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending February 16 2015
  • February 2, 2015: What have you been watching? Including Gone Girl, Suits, Spiral, The Blacklist and The Americans
    A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending February 2 2015
  • February 9, 2015: What have you been watching? Including Hiding, Winter, One Man, Two Guvnors and Agent Carter
    A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending February 9 2015
  • February 23, 2015: What have you been watching? Including Hostages, The Odd Couple, X Company, Living With Models and Bosch
    A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending February 23 2015
  • March 30, 2015: What have you been watching? Including Bloodline, The Good Witch, 19-2 and Fortitude
    A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending March 30 2015
  • March 9, 2015: What have you been watching? Including Dig, Maximum Choppage, The Americans, Fortitude, 12 Monkeys and Vikings
    A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending March 9 2015
  • March 16, 2015: What have you been watching? Including The Producers, Divergent, Dig, Gallipoli, Fortitude and Vikings
    A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending March 16 2015
  • March 23, 2015: What have you been watching? Including Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Community, The Flash and 19-2
    A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending March 23 2015
  • April 13, 2015: What have you been watching? Including American Odyssey, Daredevil, Olympus and Silicon Valley
    A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending April 13 2015
  • April 20, 2015: What have you been watching? Including Game of Thrones, American Odyssey, The Flash and Community
    A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending April 20 2015
  • April 24, 2015: What have you been watching? Including John Wick, Vikings, The Americans, Arrow and The Blacklist
    A review of the TV and films I watched in the week ending April 24 2015
  • March 21, 2016: What have you been watching? Including Spotlight, The Americans, Second Chance, The Magicians,
    The TV I watched in the week ending Monday 21st March 2016
  • April 2, 2016: What have you been watching? Including Banshee, Blå Ögon (Blue Eyes), The Catch, Supergirl and The Americans
    The TV I watched in the week ending Saturday 2nd April 2016
  • April 25, 2016: What have you been watching? Including Bridge of Spies, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley
    The TV I watched in the week ending Monday 25th April 2016
  • April 15, 2016: What have you been watching? Including The Tunnel: Sabotage, 12 Monkeys and Scott Pilgrim vs The World
    The TV I watched in the week ending Friday 15th April 2016
  • May 9, 2016: What have you been watching? Including Marseille, Captain America: Civil War and The Americans
    The TV I watched in the week ending Monday 9th May 2016
  • May 23, 2016: What have you been watching? Including Lady Dynamite, Vis a Vis (Locked Up), Banshee and DC's Legends of Tomorrow
    The TV I watched in the week ending Monday 23rd May 2016
  • May 16, 2016: What have you been watching? Including Wolf Creek, Banshee, The Tunnel and Game of Thrones
    The TV I watched in the week ending Monday 16th May 2016
  • June 6, 2016: What have you been watching? Including Deadpool, The Americans and The Tunnel (Tunnel)
    The TV I watched in the fortnight ending Monday 6th June 2016
  • June 13, 2016: What have you been watching? Including The Night Manager, Outcast, The Americans and Cleverman
    The TV I watched in the fortnight ending Monday 13th June 2016
  • January 23, 2017: Amazon tries to make me feel old with The Americans
    Amazon has tagged The Americans as an historical drama
  • March 13, 2017: What have you been watching? Including Arrival (2016) and The Americans
    A review of Arrival (2016), as well as 6/3/17-11/3/17's episodes of 24: Legacy, The Americans, DC's Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, Imposters, Legion, Lethal Weapon, Man Seeking Woman, The Magicians, Powerless and Taken
  • March 27, 2017: What have you been watching? Including The Arrangement, Midnight Sun, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
    Mini-reviews of the first few episodes of The Arrangement and Midnight Sun, as well as of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Plus reviews of 19/3/17-25/3/17's episodes of DC's Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, The Good Fight, Imposters, Legion and Th...

Read other posts about:

Allowable comments

You can leave just about any kind of comment you like. You can argue, suggest I am (or anyone else is) wrong, leaving general messages of love – anything. However, you absolutely can't leave messages that attack other commenters (or me), are simple variations of "your review sucks" or that are misogynistic, racist, homophobic, etc: your comment will either be edited or deleted and you'll be barred from leaving any further comments. We want to keep it civil here.

Spoilers

You can hide a spoiler by putting <spoiler> before it and </spoiler> after it. Hover over a spoiler to reveal it!

Featured Articles

Marvel's Iron Fist

Season two of Daredevil but done right