I honestly don’t know where to begin. I might as well start, well, at the beginning. FX kept promoting this little period piece drama towards the conclusion of the very disappointing American Horror Story: Asylum. It’s about spies, had Keri Russell, and it was taking over the Wednesday night time slot. So I figured, “Why not?”
Boy, if FX was apologizing for Asylum, this was the greatest apology I’ve ever received.
The Americans in a nutshell is about two KGB Soviet spies that go undercover as an American couple and infiltrate the American government during the 1980′s Cold War. These spies are known in the States as Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings (played by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell). Throughout the series, they are given missions by their superior Claudia (Margo Martindale) that range from retrieving information to taking someone out — and not for dinner.
What makes this espionage drama stand out from others are all the perplex relationships that develop among the characters. For starters, the Jenning’s new neighbor, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), is an FBI agent assigned to tracking down the KGB spies. His family becomes close to the Jennings, even he and Phillip become buds. Then you have Nina (Annet Mahendru), who works at the Russian Embassy and is turned by the Americans after she attempts to smuggle goods to her family back home. On top of that, she and Beeman become romantic. Then you have Martha (Alison Wright), the secretary to a top dog at the FBI Frank Gaad (Richard Thomas), who is literally sleeping with the enemy (Phillip undercover as Clark). All of these relationships may seem overwhelming, but it isn’t, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
But the most complicated relationship of all is the one we begin with: Phillip & Elizabeth. Twenty years prior, they were assigned to go undercover in the States, which established a false marriage. Over time, they grow accustomed to living in America. Their accents are gone after intense training, they are engulfed in the culture, and they have two American-born children, Paige and Henry (Holly Taylor & Keidrich Sellati). So not only do they have to keep their missions a secret from the outside world, they must also hide it under their own roof. And up until the events that occur in the series, Phillip and Elizabeth viewed their marriage as a job. They don’t realize until now that they truly care about each other, despite the assignment. But that doesn’t mean that their job is put aside as many of their missions involve extramarital affairs on both ends. Phillip and Elizabeth struggle to find balance as partners, parents, and as husband and wife, making this one of the most complicated relationships in television history.
I’m sure FX wanted to create a show in the lines of Homeland, another spy thriller with emotional depth. The advantage The Americans have over the Emmy winner is the storytelling. Need I remind you that this show takes place during the 1980′s Cold War. Do you know what that means? NO CELL PHONES! Imagine how simple everything would be with today’s technology. The KGB relied more on wigs than recording devises! People may think this point is so minimal, but not having the internet and iPhones not only make government operations convoluted, it also intensifies the drama.
The Americans is a rare show in which every episode was at least solid, if not terrific. There was no filler. Each of the thirteen episodes were eventful, emotional, or both. Obviously, we all know how the Cold War ended, but this show isn’t about the war. It’s about these characters and their jobs, their relationships, their responsibilities, and their morals and values. The season finale may not have had a “game-changing” moment that most finales do, but it perfectly sets up what we should expect next winter.
Despite the somewhat poor ratings, The Americans was renewed for a second season. In the new Golden Age of Television, there is so much television has to offer. It’s difficult to find time to watch the best of the best. Let me tell you this: The Americans is the best of the best. The writing is flawless, developing every character with purpose and sympathy. The performances are top-notch, especially rising star Matthew Rhys and the beautifully intense Keri Russell, who has come a long way since Felicity. Any aspect, whether it be the art direction, the editing, even the soundtrack feed into the show’s perfection.
If you want great television, watch The Americans.
(Side Note: I’d like to acknowledge Margo Martindale’s Emmy nomination for Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her performance in The Americans. This was one of only two nominations total. It’s called ‘Underrated Television’ for a reason.)