Thursday, February 21, 2013

‘The Americans’ hits right mix of entertainment, nostalgia

FX shows are usually pretty good – ‘Anger Management’ notwithstanding.

Still, I was concerned that ‘The Americans’ might not be a good fit for the network.

Actually, I wasn’t quite sure if ‘The Americans’ would be a good fit for me – but I was intrigued by a cast that includes standouts Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys and Margo Martindale. I figured it couldn’t be that bad if it attracted those great actors.
Still, when the show debuted a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t check it out right away. I recorded each new episode on my DVR, but I never quite found the time to watch them.

This past weekend, I finally sat down and turned the first episode on. I kept telling myself, if it wasn’t good, I would just delete all the episodes. The truth is, I really don’t need to add another new show to my already full repertoire.

Imagine my surprise when, not only did I watch the first episode in its entirety, but I also rushed through the rest of the episodes I had on my DVR.

‘The Americans’ is not only well-acted – but there’s a feeling of nostalgia wrapped around it that is hard not to enjoy. As a child of the 1980s, I can’t help but love the retro music and outfits – while also embracing the serious attitude the show projects.

‘The Americans’ is about two Russian spies who are sent to the United States to act as a couple and undermine certain operations in the country. It is weird to think that I am rooting for Russian spies to take down American operatives – but the time difference gives the show a retrospective feel, so I don’t feel all that guilty about it.

Elizabeth and Phillip were placed together in their early 20s – and then sent to the United States. They’ve had two children together, but never really formed an intense bond – until now. Elizabeth and Philip are both struggling – but not for the same reasons.

Elizabeth is still loyal to Russia above all else – but she’s also loyal to Phillip and their two children.
Phillip, on the other hand, is loyal to his family first and is willing to defect because he believes it will keep everyone safe.

The first episode explores some of Elizabeth’s issues – including the fact that she was raped by one of the men who trained her as a teenager.

Phillip, who up until that point had been willing to deal with the man to get his family to safety, turns into a blood thirsty maniac when he realizes what was done to his wife.

One of the interesting conceits about ‘The Americans’ is that Elizabeth and Phillip are still out having sex with other people (to get information), but they are starting to consider themselves committed to each other. It’s an interesting dichotomy, and Russell and Rhys have palpable chemistry.

The two children – a boy and a girl – are also a source of great strain between the couple. Elizabeth wants to raise them as Socialists – but since they have to go along with the American façade, she cannot teach the children as she would like to.

Elizabeth’s struggle to understand her teenage daughter – and how things are totally different in America (vs. the way she grew up) is one of the central themes in ‘The Americans.’

For his part, Rhys obviously loves his wife and children – but he’s also capable of great violence. It doesn’t help that the FBI agent that lives next door is somewhat suspicious of his neighbors.

While Phillip struggles to hold on to what he’s got, he also has a strange sense of right and wrong. When a man hits on his 13-year-old daughter in a store, for example, Phillip is enraged. Since he’s undercover, though, he can’t do anything about it.

Cut to the end of the episode, where he dresses up in a different disguise, and pays a visit to the man he believes is preying on young girls. Not only is the fight impressive, but the timing Rhys delivers as he completes the beating is actually quite humorous.

The other interesting factor about ‘The Americans’ is the political aspect. In the time frame that is being portrayed, Ronald Reagan is president – and Elizabeth, especially, has a true dislike of him and his “megalomania.” That will probably tick off quite a few Reagan lovers, I'm sure.

Essentially, ‘The Americans’ is a character study of a particular snippet in our country’s history – only we’re looking at it from the point-of-view of the enemy.

It’s well worth the time to check out, though.

What do you think? Do you like ‘The Americans’?


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