The Americans Review: Spies Like Them

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The Americans is faced with unusual task: make the premise of two KGB agents living on U.S. soil into a frightening concept.

This is difficult to achieve because - SPOILER ALERT! - the Cold War is over. There was no major Russian attack, no significant intelligence breach. So what should viewers make of Keri Russell's Elizabeth and Matthew Rhys's Phillip? That they gave it a good shot, but history tells us they ultimately failed?

Of course not.

Yes, the pilot of this new FX drama stakes out the role of this undercover couple as to infiltrate the enemy. But it's clear The Americans will focus less on this agenda and more on what transpires between the married twosome, as it attempts to ask and answer the question: Who really is the enemy? And what happens when you think that enemy is lying under your covers?

The Americans Photo

The end result of the Jennings' actions may be preordained because we know their country does not win the big battle - but the direction of their relationship is what this excellent drama wants viewers to ponder.

We meet Elizabeth and Phillip after they've been in this country for 16 years. It's not difficult to see how even such a major lie can start to feel like the truth after such a long period of time, especially when one is keeping up one's American front for two children.

Phillip and Elizabeth certainly love their kids, there's nothing fake about that. So it's understandable that the former would start to lean more in the direction of his actual family than his government family as time goes on, especially as he grows accustomed to the American way of life... and stops speaking Russian... and learns - as so many might in this day and age - that the enemy actually isn't so bad once you get to know it.

But this isn't the case for Elizabeth, and we learn why in a harrowing scene. She had the humanity forced out of her as a teenager. The rape could have turned her against her country, but instead it turned her into a cold human being, someone entirely focused on the task at hand.

You’re my wife, Phillip says at one point, pushed away once again. Is that right, Elizabeth asks, summing up the series in a single response.

It should be fascinating to watch these two play against each other when their agendas clash and then with each other when the task calls for it, as we witnessed to conclude the extended premiere.

It's especially jarring because Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are playing so against type. These are significantly tougher roles than what was asked of either in Felicity and Brothers & Sisters, respectively. Oh, and Rhys is donning a perm. Perfect.

The 1980s setting is perfectly placed in the background in the pilot, with simple touches including the perm, the use of pay phones and the terrific soundtrack that includes Phil Collins and Fleetwood Mac. It was a very different time, but the theme of a marriage in trouble, of secrets being kept between partners, translates to any era.

Granted, Noah Emmerich's FBI agent moving in next door feels a bit contrived. That's a rather easy, obvious obstacle to throw at Phillip and Elizabeth right off the bat. But it's also a rather small complaint.

Overall, The Americans is everything I'd expect from FX: an original concept with a pair of fantastic leads. The Cold War may be over, but my interest in the disintegration of this marriage is only just heating up.

What did you think? Grade The Americans premiere now:


Editor Rating: 4.4 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 (95 Votes)

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.


Great show! I thought the FBI guy suspected something when he went to borrow the jumper cables but I guess not. If I was the guy in the trunk I would have made some noise! And how creepy was it with the husband in the garage at the end? And loved the music. Can't wait for more.


Judging from the pilot, this has the makings of being a great series. Well acted, intelligent, exciting, and not too predictable (although it was a little predictable that the FBI new-neighbor would come snooping around). This could be up there with Person Of Interest as a must-watch series. I'm in!


This was a pretty damn good show! They didn't overdo the 80's thing where it felt campy, they set the groundwork for the series and gave us enough character background for us to know and sympathize with the enem ...I mean with the leads and managed to do this without suffering from pilotitis. I love that Phillip and Elizabeth are of opposing opinions and I love that their opinions aren't conducive with stereotypical roles especially for that time. Phillip is the one inclined to have his emotions get away. He's more confused, more settled in, seems closer to the kids and after so many years distant from their cause and mission. He wants the American dream and got lost in his undercover role. Elizabeth is all country and pride and distant.I love that we got to see why that is and we better understand her character. After 15yrs they're finally at a place where they might actually love each other and now the stakes are high with the neighbor. Very enjoyable.


Fantastic new show!But frankly I don't see their marriage falling apart.In fact I see it strengthening as shown at the end where Elizabeth told Philip her real name and past.I love the two of them and look foward to how their double lives are going to create drama.The chemistry is oozing and I can't wait to see more!!


I was hooked immediately. The opening five minutes with 'Tusk' in the background was superb - I played it over a couple of times. I don't understand the negativity because there is only a very limited number of quality TV shows these days and bucket-loads of dumb predicable drivel. So far this one looks to me to be headed for the top Shelf. I also thought Matthew Rhys was superb in his role. I guess it helps that I lived through the 'cold war' and remember the fear and paranoia of the times - from the 1950's onwards. The show has a ring of truth to it irrespective of supposed 'flaws' in the storyline.Can't wait for the next episode.


★★★☆☆TV Oh! Sugar, Sugar Difficult premise to intrigue one, after Salt. Still it might find and audience a la Homeland. If it's on FX, I find myself comparing it to Terriers. This show just slightly missed hitting par with Tdogs. So I'm Out. ...


lmao @ Joey... Pathetic plug


I was intrigued by the concept and I love me some MR, so I was predisposed to like it, but I wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did. Definitely hooked and I hope it can maintain the quality in upcoming episodes.


I liked the show, but did we have to hear that damn Phil Collins song AGAIN ???


Good, if one overlooks a few cognitive disconnects and the ridiculous ending.

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