Russians invade FX in new drama ‘The Americans’

Miles Anderson

America: the land of the free and the home of the brave. A land of majestic mountaintops, vexing valleys, and charming cities. A land known for embracing its rich history and its democratic origins. And above all, a land filled with communistic Soviet spies? This is exactly the premise of FX’s new drama series The Americans, which follows two Russian sleeper agents posing as a couple in suburban Washington DC in 1981.

Elizabeth Jennings (played by Keri Russell), a KGB sleeper agent, contemplates her future as both a Soviet spy and a devoted mother in The Americans.

The Americans is a clever exploitation of the uneasy tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Red Scare, a Communist witch hunt prompting Americans to suspect that Soviets were living in the United States, raised the Cold War tensions to a new magnitude in the early ‘80s, when the show is set.

The two protagonists, Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings (played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys), run their secretive Soviet agendas behind their children’s backs while still trying to play the stereotypical roles of mother and father. But unlike other dramas about the Cold War period, the Soviets are meant to be the good guys.

Russell’s hardened, layered character paired with Dhys’ likeable portrayal of Phillip creates an unusual tandem. Elizabeth and Phillip’s allegiances lie in two different places. Elizabeth has an unwavering loyalty towards her motherland, Russia, while Phillip constantly struggles to balance his loyalty towards Russia with an obligation to his new family.

The juxtaposition of the agents’ double lives is enough to make any television junkie squeal with delight. In the afternoon, they bake brownies to welcome new neighbors. As night falls, they proceed to interrogate a treasonous Soviet lying helplessly in the back of their Corvette. Yep, just a normal family day. Nothing unusual.

To make matters worse, an FBI agent (played by Noah Emmerich) working in counterintelligence moves next door.

The creator of the series, Joe Weisberg, expertly utilizes the irony of a Soviet hunter scouring the globe for sleeper agents when, in fact, his prey lies right under his nose.

By watching the first two episodes, it is apparent that Weisberg plans to expound upon the relationship between the FBI agent and Dhys’ character, who thus far have engaged in eating Russian caviar and  playful banter.

As if the show needed any more drama, the contrast between husband and wife is sickeningly brilliant. Elizabeth’s devotion to Russia stands in direct contrast with Phillip’s wavering devotion between his family and the mission.

The groundwork for a fantastic series has been cemented in the first couple of episodes, and the situational irony and contrast are going to make this show as masterful as a show with a similar plot, AMC’s award-winning series, Homeland.

Despite these strengths, the Americans will deter some viewers due to its excessive graphic, gratuitous scenes. The Americans is trying to establish a harsh, unforgiving tone with this boarderline obsene behavior, but it’s a step too far. For example, the first two episodes have each opened with a vivid sexual encounter, and have either featured violence, more sex, or a combination of the two slammed in between.

However, it shouldn’t come as a shocker that FX, a racy cable channel known for provocative shows like Archer and American Horror Story would toe the line of political correctness once again. Be advised: children should not watch this show.

Nevertheless, the Americans tackles tension in an innovative, historically plausible format, which seems to be a formula for success given the similar devices used in the Oscar-nominated film Argo.

The best is yet to come for  The Americans, which airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on FX.