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The Americans

The Americans - Season 1

What She said:

She

There are upsides and downsides to TV shows with a short order season.  The downside is that if I like it, I have to live with the fact that I'll get three months of the show (if I'm lucky) before it goes on a year-long hiatus.  The upside is that I can actually remember the entire season for this review.  And so goes Season 1 of The Americans. Yes, the 13 episode run was short, but I found it extremely enjoyable and contemplative for the viewer.

The series follows married Russian spies Philip and Elizabeth as they pose as the American owners of a travel agency just living normal lives in early 1980s Washington, D.C.  But their lives are actually very far from normal.  First of all, they moonlight as deep cover spies, collecting secrets about the U.S. government.  There's lots of covert affairs, lying, fighting, and killing.  To further complicate things, they have two very normal, very American children, who have no idea what their parents really do for a living.  Oh, and their lives are so much of a sham that their marriage isn't even real.  Well, technically it's real, but they were setup by the Russian government.  But Philip and Elizabeth seem to have a bond just as strong, if not stronger, then the traditional marriage.  They are all that the other one has.

The Americans

The season follows the spies as they get caught in all sorts of dicey situations.  As if their lives aren't complicated enough, FBI agent Stan Beeman moves in across the street and the families become friends.  Stan is an excellent agent with a real instinct.  And so Philip and Elizabeth have to tread lightly around him.  This leads to a lot of awkward and somewhat comical situations.

Matthew Rhys plays Philip and Keri Russell is Elizabeth.  Noah Emmerich rounds out the most notable cast as Stan.  All these actors do a fantastic jobs embodying their characters.  They're very believable, and easy to sympathize with.  Yes, I said sympathize, and you'll have a hard time not rooting for Philip and Elizabeth.  I very quickly forgot that they were the bad guys.  Frankly, Philip is pretty darn likable, even with all of his transgressions.  The series is fueled by action, intrigue, and raw emotion, and there certainly is plenty of all these things.  Of course there are a few episodes that aren't quite as engaging or interesting but overall the show is very solid.  It also benefits from a generous helping of somewhat dark humor.  I cannot speak to just how factually accurate it may be.  I get the sense it's probably not even close to the reality that was the Cold War, but that's OK by me. I enjoyed this first season nonetheless.  It's more than a spy show or a historical drama, it's the story of a marriage that is continually tested and ever-evolving, and that made The Americans fascinating to me.

Thumbs up.

What He said:

He

I was alive during some of the more tense moments of the Cold War, but not old enough to take in or even remember the severity of the situation. If this show is even half as accurate of what it was like – especially to live in D.C. – during that time then, wow! The drama and tension would have to be off the charts. It seems like it was nothing but sex, lies, murder, double-crossing, and all other kinds of shenanigans. It makes for great television.

The Americans follows Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. They are KGB spies posing as everyday American citizens. The have perfect American accents, work at a travel agency, and have two children; who are completely unaware of their parents’ double life.

The Americans

They also have a really complicated relationship. You see, they were paired up by the Soviet government. It is similar to an arranged marriage, only for spies. Their relationship is strictly business, up until recently that is. Philip (Matthew Rhys) always took the approach that they’d grow to care about one another. Even if the marriage is nothing more than a cover, he wants to make the best of the situation. Plus, he believes it will make them better partners. If you’re going to work together – especially doing the kind of work they are – why not at least attempt to get to know the person who might end up saving your life one day? Elizabeth (Keri Russell) on the other hand, looks at it as a job. She loves her children, but never really formed a bond with Philip. However, due to some recent events, she has started to feel closer to him than she has in the past.

Things quickly get complicated though. Because they are spies, they have many secret identities. They form relationships with people to get information. Sometimes those relationships get serious. Back when they didn’t particularly care about one another, it wasn’t an issue. But now that they have formed a bond, they’re suddenly jealous of these other relationships, even if completely fabricated.

Another issue between them is the loyalty to the cause. They both love their children, but one is more dedicated to the war than the other. One of them is completely loyal to the cause, while the other has considered defecting and entering the witness protection program to focus on the safety of their family.

The Americans

As if they didn’t have enough stress, FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and his family have recently moved in across the street. Stan has his own issues, but I won’t delve into that too much. I think you’ll appreciate it all much more if you watch it unfold for yourself. I have to mention how good Emmerich and the actress who plays his wife (Susan Misner) are together. Stan has a very high-demand and stressful job, which causes some issues between him and his wife. Philip and Elizabeth aren’t the only ones with a complicated relationship. Stan and Sandra (Misner) have their own problems as well.

There is also a really good supporting cast. The kids playing Philip and Elizabeth’s children are legit. Sometimes child actors aren’t so great, but these two (Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati) turn in some very believable performances. Richard Thomas plays Agent Frank Gaad, Stan’s boss. He’s a powerhouse. Annet Mahendru plays a KGB spy and one of Stan’s informants, Nina. There’s a lot going on with this character and the performance shows that very well. Alison Wright plays Martha. She works in Stan’s office, but is unknowingly one of Philip’s informants. This character is a riot. She thinks she’s helping out her country, but Philip is totally playing her for information.

One of the things that makes this show quite compelling is the light in which you view each character. You would think that you would be rooting for the U.S. characters – and it’s not that you’re necessarily rooting against them – but Philip and Elizabeth are quite likeable at times; Philip in particular. You kind of like Stan, he seems like a decent enough guy, but his partner is a total dirtbag. You also get the benefit of seeing what the other side doesn’t know, so you find yourself rooting for people, not governments or countries.  

I remember seeing the previews for this show and thinking it looked like it had potential, but didn’t plan on making a huge effort to see it. I thought it looked good, but if I saw it, I saw it. If not, I wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it. But once I saw an episode or two, I was hooked. This show is top-notch. It’s well-acted, has an authentic 80s feel, and is an awesome spy thriller. It’s always hard to say this, because not many of us watch every single show on TV, but this has got to be one of the best dramas on television right now. It’s a very well-done show.

Prognosis: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on May 16, 2013.

 

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