Weekly Binge: The Americans
We give you what you need to know to dive into the popular shows everyone's talking about.
Welcome to the Weekly Binge, where we'll be taking a closer look at the shows that are worth your time. This week, we travel back in time to the Reagan-Era 1980s to hang out with FX's The Americans, our favorite KGB Spies.
What's the premise? A couple of KGB spies pose as a married American couple in 1980s Washington, D.C.
What's it like? It's like your favorite Russian spy movie... but as a television series. Matthew Rhys (Brothers and Sisters) and Keri Russell (Felicity) star as Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, the two spies who are oh so smooth with every move. In order to make their marriage seem legit, Philip and Elizabeth even had children together; now they've got these two American kids to raise, adding some family drama to the mix -- more of which, we hear, will be coming up in season two. They've grown to love each other, but even fake marriages can go awry. Margo Martindale (August, Osage County, The Millers, Masters of Sex) appears as their KGB handler in America, and when she tests their loyalty, the Jennings make violently clear exactly how they feel about it.
How long will it take? Not long; only thirteen episodes make up all of season one. So, without commercials, it might take you about 11 hours or so.
What do the critics think? Season one is Certified Fresh at 89 percent -- pretty awesome. Amy Amatangelo of Paste Magazine says, "What I liked most about the drama is that Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are so utterly believable as Philip and Elizabeth Jennings," and Popmatters' Cynthia Fuchs goes further: "As much as the series' pitch seems clear -- it's another period series, with terrific design details, long story arcs, and complex performances -- it is also something else, a reframing of what it might mean to be 'Americans,' then and now." Vicki Hyman of the Newark Star-Ledger calls it "a gripping Cold War spy thriller -- Alias, say, without the sci-fi digressions and with less ridiculous get-ups -- and an equally intriguing domestic drama."
Why should I watch this? It's gripping as all get-out, and seeing Keri Russell in a dramatic adult role is just cool. As Claudia, Margo Martindale has a take-no-prisoners attitude that knocks you to your knees, and Russell and Rhys as the Jennings more than hold their own, with quick thinking and uber-dextrous slaying skillz. Watching The Americans also provides a great opportunity to brush up on your 1980s pop culture We could, however, stand to see more shoulder pads, neon-patterned gym pants, Swatch watches, and Jellies; it's sort of a wasted opportunity there. The current struggles facing the two lead characters are what we find so compelling right now. There is some serious emotional warfare going on in their heads and we sit, anxiously awaiting answers, as some huge decisions have to be made in season two. Add in the dramatic appeal of their eldest child beginning to unravel the mystery of who her parents are, and the result is a thought-provoking concoction that satiates our taste for action and mystery.
What's my next step? If you're into spy films, some hot ones to check out include GoldenEye, The Man Who Knew Too Much, True Lies, Gotcha!, and Fair Game. As for television series, 24 was a popular action serial, but I personally preferred the 1990s version of La Femme Nikita (and the film as well). Oh, and don't forget The Avengers. Margo Martindale fans should check out the film August: Osage County, and on television, The Millers, the second season of Justified, and the 2007 series The Riches with Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver. Keri Russell, of course, was TV's Felicity and recently starred in the film Austenland. You can see more solid acting skills from Matthew Rhys in old episodes of Brothers and Sisters.