By Paula Hendrickson
Did you miss the first few episodes of FX’s critically acclaimed new drama, The Americans, but are afraid you’ll never catch up on the storyline? Good news. Friday night, March 1, FX is showing a mini-marathon of the first five episodes. It starts at 9 p.m. (Central), and the final episode ends at 2:30 p.m. (Central) Saturday morning, March 2.
Whether you stay up late or record The Americans, it’s definitely worth catching up before the next new episode airs Wednesday, March 6, at 9 p.m. (Central).
If you aren’t already familiar with the premise, Keri Russell (Felicity, Waitress) and Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters) play a pair of Reagan-era KGB sleeper agents living as true blue Americans Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings in a middle-class suburb of Washington, D.C. During their 15 years in the United States, they’ve had two kids, Paige and Henry, and established a seemingly successful travel agency. No one — not even their kids, who learn anti-Soviet lessons at school — have a clue about the couple’s covert affairs.
(Travel agents. How better to establish the early ’80’s world Elizabeth and Phillip live in?)
Maybe you can’t picture co-ed Felicity or Brothers & Sisters’ whiny Kevin as spies, but Russell and Rhys are very convincing in the fight and action scenes. Also impressive? In real life, Rhys is a Welsh actor playing a Russian pretending to be American — with a flawless American accent.
Elizabeth seems a bit detached from her family, with good reason. She and Phillip were ordered to marry and have children as part of their cover. She’s also committed to their mission and Mother Russia. Phillip clearly loves and enjoys the kids — watch for one of my favorite scenes from the pilot episode when he and Paige are at the mall, it showcases Rhys’ range very well — and the American way of life.
The Americans is a good balance of suspense, thriller and family drama. There’s humor, too.
Did I mention the Jennings’ new neighbor happens to be an FBI agent named Stan (Noah Emmerich), who just ended a long-term undercover assignment of his own? After being embedded with an extremist militia group, Stan probably knows all the tricks Elizabeth and Phillip use to maintain their cover. Even Phillip has to suspect something when Stan opens a tin of caviar.
Spies don’t work alone. Stan’s FBI boss is played by Richard Thomas (The Waltons), and the Jennings’ new handler (Jusitfied’s Margo Martindale) looks like a nice American grandmother.
The espionage is fun to watch, but the early ’80’s costumes, décor, music and props are simply icing on the cake. At some point, you’ll probably realize that the writing and performances have you rooting for both sides at the same time. Elizabeth and Phillip aren’t Cold War monsters — they’re human beings trying to do the right thing. But what is the right thing — for the world, for their kids, even for their marriage? Each episode has at least one character wondering what the greater good really is.
If you haven’t checked out The Americans yet, you can’t be more than five episodes behind, so there’s plenty of time to get caught up this weekend.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Feb. 27-March 5, 2013, issue