The Americans

4 out of 5

Creator: Joe Weisberg

covers season 1

Stretching the show beyond a couple seasons wouldn’t seem wise, but as long as The Americans keeps its wits about it, the first season proves to be one of the best acted and most patiently written shows on television, surpassing the ‘coolness’ of a lot of FX shows to hover in a realm all its own, neither identifiable as a premium station or regular station show.  Is it a spy thriller about two KGB agents living undercover as a normal American family in 80s USA?  Sure.  But the fact that our ‘bad guys’, the Russkies – Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys – are our main characters should give some indication that this isn’t going to be a show to summarize in one or two episodes.  Indeed, if there’s anything that initially works against the show, it’s that you can’t get a grasp on it.  Episode one pitches itself as all action and intrigue, with our spies dolling themselves up in various get-ups to make sexual rendezvous and connections and getting involved in karate-chopping fisticuffs all in the name of gathering sweet, sweet intel for the homeland.  But over the course of the season, we unravel this initial image (mostly) and realize that we’re dealing with quite a conflict: deep undercover spy thrillers normally show the struggle of finding the line between good and evil, but here the ‘evil’ is America.  Our leads can’t tell how married they really are – is it cover, are these feelings real – and can’t tell if the actions taken against their country are any better or worse than the reciprocal actions they’re supposed to initiate or incite.  It’s a very precarious balance, and admittedly the show tips a little too much toward intrigue-of-the-week, or getting cheeky with the different undercover costumes, but on the whole, that unsteadiness proves to make it incredibly gripping, as you really can’t be certain what direction things will go.  It’s very, very real, and brought to amazing life by Russell and Rhys, not to mention the band of actors playing their various contacts or ‘friends.’  The scripts are strong (which happens more often when you have a primary writer at the helm) and enforce momentum – we really can’t afford to dawdle too long in anything melodramatic, because there’s an assignment going on at the same time.  Creator Weisberg – ex-CIA, in whatever capacity – also made the smart decision of moving this to the 80s, despite being inspired by the recent-ish discovery of Russian agents living in nowadays America.  The time displacement removes any forced drama and lets us focus on the characters.  Which is really what this is about.  How long can it go?  Hopefully only as long as it needs to to stay this gripping and intelligent.

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