Tube Talk: ‘The Americans,’ ‘The Red Road,’ ‘Portlandia’ and beyond

February 26, 2014

 

IFC's hit sketch comedy Portlandia stars Fred Armisen, right, and Carrie Brownstein.

IFC’s Portlandia stars Fred Armisen, right, and Carrie Brownstein.

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

Now that the winter Olympics are over, cable and broadcast networks are launching new series and bringing old favorites back.
Season two of FX’s tense and engaging thriller The Americans is something I’ve been looking forward to ever since its first season ended. While the espionage is exciting and the ’80s costumes can be a bit frightening, it’s Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings’ (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) complicated marriage and family life that keeps drawing me in. Perhaps the biggest question at the start of this season is: Has the Jennings’ teenage daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) inherited enough of her parents’ super spy skills to uncover their Soviet ties?

Russell and Rhys have a tough job balancing adrenaline-fueled fight scenes and subterfuge with a less-than-typical home life as Soviet sleeper agents posing as an all-American couple raising two kids and running a travel agency. Rhys gets extra credit for being a Welshman flawlessly playing a Russian pretending to be an American.

They’re buoyed with an astounding supporting cast including Noah Emmerich as their FBI agent neighbor Stan; multi-lingual actress Annet Mahendru as Stan’s asset-turned-lover Nina; Alison Wright as Phillips’ other wife, Martha, who just happens to be the assistant to Stan’s FBI boss Special Agent Gadd, played by Richard Thomas. With any luck, Margo Martindale (now starring on The Millers) will reappear at some point this season as Phillip and Elizabeth’s grandmotherly-looking, cold-as-ice KGB handler, Claudia.

A new show debuting this week is The Red Road, Sundance Channel’s buzzed-about series centered on conflicts of a small town and a Native American community that tied together by tragedy despite their contentious shared history. Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones, Stargate: Atlantis) stars along with Julianne Nicholson (Boardwalk Empire, Law and Order: Criminal Intent) and Tom Sizemore, who has way too many credits to list here.

DVRs will be busy at 9 p.m., Thursday, when IFC’s cult hit sketch comedy Portlandia kicks off its fourth season against the mid-season return of ABC’s addictive drama Scandal. These shows appeal to very different audiences, but if you’re one of us who enjoys both series and can’t decide which to watch live, I’d suggest watching Scandal live. Why? Partly because it’s twist-filled event TV with loads of water cooler hashtag-y goodness, but also because Portlandia crams so many visual and verbal gags into each sketch that you’ll probably need to play back some scenes so you won’t miss any laughs.

Fans of Hannibal —NBC’s prequel to Silence of the Lambs — will be excited to know the deliciously creepy psycho thriller returns this week. Chances are they’ll also be disappointed to know it’s been moved to Friday nights, often known as a “death slot.” Don’t despair. When The CW moved Supernatural to Fridays, it outperformed expectations and was eventually returned to a prime mid-week spot. Perhaps Hannibal can do the same.

It’s only fitting that a week beginning with the closing ceremony of the winter games should end with another huge TV event: The Oscars. Ellen DeGeneres — who last hosted the Oscars in 2007 — returns as host again this year, and the likes of U2, Idina Menzel and Pharrell are set to perform some of the film songs nominated for Academy Awards this year.

Programming notes

The Americans season premiere Wednesday, Feb. 26, 9 p.m. Central on FX
The Red Road series debut Thursday, Feb. 27, 8 p.m. Central on Sundance
Scandal mid-season return Thursday, Feb. 27, 9 p.m. Central on ABC
Portlandia season premiere Thursday, Feb. 27, 9 p.m. Central on IFC
Hannibal season premiere Friday, Feb. 28, 9 p.m. Central on NBC
The 86th Annual Academy Awards Sunday, March 2, 7:30 p.m. Central on ABC

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: @P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to tubetalking-paula@yahoo.com.

From the Feb. 26-March 4, 2014 issue

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