The Americans (FX) - Series Premiere: Synopsis and Review

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Jumping on the bandwagon following the huge success of Showtime’s ‘Homeland’, FX has cast Felicity Porter (Keri Russell, ‘Felicity’) and Kevin Walker (Matthew Rhys, ‘Brothers & Sisters’) as 1980s KGB spies. And right here is where the comparison ends.

‘The Americans’ heroes are Philip (Rhys) and Elizabeth (Russell) Jennings, KGB spies posing as a married couple living in Virginia, near D.C. So from an American point of view, these people are actually the enemy, which can possibly question the viewer’s loyalty in the future.

From the opening sequence, it becomes clear that the two form a well-oiled team while on the job. Outside of that, though, they are mostly pretending. There is definitely some form of attraction, but they have never been in love with each other the way you’d expect a married couple with a 13 year-old daughter (Holly Taylor) and an 11 year-old son (Keidrich Sellati) to have.

This week’s assignment is to capture a KGB colonel who is now working for the FBI. Because the Bureau is all over his disappearance, they can’t bring him to the Soviet embassy. Therefore, they have to keep this man in the trunk of their car, in their garage in the suburbs. While Philip is out gathering intelligence on the FBI’s progress, it is revealed that Elizabeth and the captured KGB official go way back, and not in a good way.

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What really makes the show interesting, though, is the Jennings’ family life. As mentioned, Philip and Elizabeth don’t have a loving relationship like they are supposed to, but their children know nothing about the real identities of their parents. Therefore, the pair continuously has to pretend to be a couple, something that must be very difficult to keep up.

The KGB official offers the Jennings 3 million dollars from the trunk of their car, and at first Philip jokingly talks about accepting the deal and defecting as well. Over the course of this episode, defecting starts to become a realistic option to Philip. Elizabeth, however, is either very loyal, or still has a grudge against the guy, and would rather stick to the mission. When Philip finds out what happened all those years ago between the two, he snaps the guy’s neck, almost as an act of love, or at least affection, towards Elizabeth.

Flashbacks reveal how the two first met when they found out they were assigned together, and how they first arrived in the United States. When Elizabeth is hesitant to sleep with Philip at first, he matter-of-factly says: “Take your time, but at some point they’ll expect us to have children”.

In a plot-twist that is more fit for a comedy series, the FBI counterintelligence officer (Noah Emmerich, ‘The Walking Dead’) assigned with their case moves in across the street. However, the writers use this to make fun of their own show, bringing the couple in some very awkwardly funny situations.

Even though the plot of ‘The Americans’ is slightly remindful of ‘Homeland’, the shows are completely different. ‘The Americans’ is much more subdued and thoughtful, even though it has action sequences as well. While the spy missions are an essential part of the show, they are more used as a plot device to tell us about the motives and relationship of the main characters.

At the same time, ‘The Americans’ writers know exactly what this show is like and use this to insert comical relief to the show. When their daughter is working on her social studies homework, the Cold War comes up, and when their son is working on his physics project, Elizabeth stresses that while landing on the moon is great, the real accomplishment here is getting into space in the first place. Another great example of this is the score that is used in the action sequences. Tension is definitely involved, but at the same time the whole situation is subtly ridiculed.

The 1980s setting is present in the show, but not too prominent, and helps create the right atmosphere for the show. At first glance it seems very convenient that these Soviet spies aren’t allowed to speak Russian, but on second thought that seems plausible. Especially when in flashbacks, Russell sort of speaks English with a thick Russian accent, it becomes clear that it wasn’t just an excuse not to speak Russian.

To some people, the slower and more thoughtful pace of ‘The Americans’ will seem boring, but the psychological aspect of the show and the humor that is thrown in completely make up for that. On top of that, the premise of the show ensures that here are myriad possibilities for future plot developments, and judging the pilot, I am confident that the writers will pick the right directions to go.

‘The Americans’ airs on FX on Wednesdays at 10/9c.

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NickysMom2003 profile image

NickysMom2003 3 years ago

I wasn't a fan of Elizabeth at the beginning, but when you get a glimpse of her past and where she's coming from you start to understand her. On the other hand, I loved Philip right away. :) I was worried that she'd turn on Philip when she met with the Colonel at the end. Her softening towards Philip seemed awfully sudden, but I suppose nothing says true love like snapping someone's neck. Lol! I love how the FBI agent is now their new neighbor; it definitely adds a little humor to an otherwise serious subject. And by the end of the pilot, I found myself hoping Elizabeth and Philip don't get caught.


Robin Oatley profile image

Robin Oatley 3 years ago Author

Hi Melissa,

Elizabeth struck me as a little too stuck up at the start, but later you find out why that might be, like you said. Philip on the other hand was a lot more relatable right from the start.

What you said about her softening up on him awfully fast was my reaction at first, too. But later I thought, maybe she wasn't actually softening up, but trying to get him back on track as an agent. To take his mind off of defecting. As we saw in the opening sequence, that is not something she'd shy away from.


NickysMom2003 profile image

NickysMom2003 3 years ago

I thought that exact thing when they were in the vehicle after disposing of the body. Elizabeth does seem to be good at using sex to get what she needs from people, and she certainly wants Philip to stay on task. I also think she sees him differently after what he did for her. She's definitely the most complex character thus far!


Robin Oatley profile image

Robin Oatley 3 years ago Author

She definitely is! I'm really looking forward to the next few episodes where we get to know more about their relationship. And Margo Martindale is cast to play the Jennings' KGB handler for at least 8 of the 15 episodes, which I'm looking forward to as well!


NickysMom2003 profile image

NickysMom2003 3 years ago

^I read that last year. Margo is such a character. Can't wait to see what she brings to the show!

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