A pair of very different Cold Wars

By Paula Hendrickson 

[dropcap]There’s [/dropcap]a good reason FX is one of the most-viewed channels on my TV. The basic cable network boasts some of television’s best dramas. Whether it’s the disturbingly dark Taboo which aired its season finale this week, Legion’s trippy take on the superhero genre, the folksy crime drama Fargo, or the creepy and campy American Horror Story FX has a drama for just about every taste.

Two more reasons to tune into FX premiere this week: The Americans finally returns for its fifth season (the sixth and final season is set for 2018).

Each season the stakes are raised for Soviet sleeper agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, respectively) and their family. Now that their teenage daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) is aware of their double life things are even more complicated. In addition to maintaining their cover as successful travel agents and average American suburbanites, Elizabeth and Philip have to make sure Paige, who wants to become more involved, isn’t endangered or accidentally spill their secret.

From the very first episode it’s been obvious that Philip enjoys the American lifestyle – taking the kids to the mall, having ice cream, etc…  He resisted the KGB’s idea of indoctrinating Paige into the family business (and I don’t mean booking vacations) while Elizabeth gradually filled Paige in on the truth. Elizabeth has always been the more dedicated soldier, but will she sacrifice family for Mother Russia?

Complicating things: Philip’s on-going bromance with neighbor and FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), whose now part of an FBI task force searching for Soviet sleeper agents. Oh, yeah. Paige has the hots for Stan’s son, too.

The Americans mixes cat-and-mouse espionage with family drama in a way no other series has before. And it does it incredibly well—even if the wigs are sometimes a bit distracting.

• Craving something a bit lighter, yet equally dramatic? Don’t miss Feud, Ryan Murphy’s latest anthology series — already renewed for a second season, which will reportedly center on Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

The inaugural season of Feud focuses on lifelong Hollywood rivals Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) during the making of the horror classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? And the eight-episode series is astounding.

Lange and Davis capture the voices and mannerisms of the movie icons without veering into caricature. The supporting cast—including Mad Men’s “Sally Draper” (Kiernan Shipka) as a different Betty/Bette’s 1960s daughter—is also great. Stanley Tucci as studio head Jack Warner, Alfred Molina playing Baby Jane director Robert Aldrich, and Judy Davis stealing scenes as gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, round out the core cast.

Supporting roles are important in a story like this. When I heard Kathy Bates was playing Joan Blondell I couldn’t picture it, but like the talented actress she is, Bates nailed it. And Catherine Zeta-Jones is almost unrecognizable is Olivia de Havilland.

I haven’t looked it up, but I’m pretty sure the cast of Feud has received more Academy Awards, combined, than did the Hollywood royalty they portray.

The truth is, you can turn on FX any time it’s airing original programming and be thoroughly entertained.

Programming notes

Feud’s series debut is Sunday, March 5 at 9 p.m. on FX.

The Americans Season 5 premiere is Tuesday, March 7 at 9 p.m. on FX.

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