The Americans – “Pilot”

The Americans FX show promo keri russell

The Americans on FX
Original airing: 10pm on 1.30.13

There’s a good chance you’ve already seen or heard SOMEthing about this new show, which premiered on FX last night.  Why?  They’ve been promoting the ever-living heck out of it for months :).  I was able to get out of work quickly enough to catch it last night, though, and I’m glad I did.

The premise of The Americans is simple enough: a story about Russian spies who live as normal Americans in the early 1980’s.  The two leads are a couple of Soviets who moved to the U.S. in the 1960’s, and have since had kids and made an American life for themselves – all the while spying for mother Russia.  It felt like a fresh take on the cold war spy genre, especially being placed near the end of the era.  The Americans is sort of like a domestic version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  Sort of ;).  The pilot was also an hour and a half long (including commercials), so it was almost a little movie in its own right.

There was only one thing that DIDN’T work for me, and I’ll mention that first, because I want to talk more about the actual episode in the spoilers section below.  The pacing seemed… curt.  It’s a strange way to describe a TV show, I think, but it was the first word that came to me as I watched.  Scenes don’t always flow into the next, and while the editing caused for a heightened feeling of tension and unease, it also kept me from completely falling into the reality of the show.  Near the end of the show, there is a beautiful moment of the couple driving to a great old song, no words spoken and it’s a very “Mark” scene, but because of some mysterious element in the editing, I wasn’t sucked into it entirely.  That’s my only complaint, though 🙂

Even in our premiere episode, all of the main characters feel fleshed out enough to become interested in.  Keri Russell’s colder, no-nonsense character is the perfect antithesis to her husband’s warmer demeanor.  Of course, he has his moments of, too, which remind us that he’s definitely a well-trained killer.  The entire situation is a time-bomb for a few reasons: their kids are innocent and unaware that their family is anything but all-American, the cold war eventually ends, and the dichotomy of the marital character-types presents the potential for interesting situations down the line.  I loved the flashbacks, which took us back to her training, the day the couple met, and their arriving in America, though I think as time goes on these views of the past will be less necessary, if at all.  As an introductory element, though, it was great – and not just because it meant we got to hear Keri Russell speak with a Russian accent ;).

Technically, beyond the curt editing, the show was fun to watch.  It has no problem with the darkness of night (bringing about a moment that made me smile big during the final scene).  It’s obviously shot with modern technology, so regardless of the clothing and hairstyles, it doesn’t feel old.. but they did a decent enough job capturing the period that I believed it.  It was subtle, perhaps in an attempt to not appear cartoonish or “too old” for younger viewers, but it is definitely a show set in the early 80’s.  It certainly earned it’s TV-MA rating, but for as adult as it was, it wasn’t gratuitous – neither with its sex or its gruesome violence.

What this pilot episode of The Americans succeeded at the most was leaving me very excited for the rest of the show.  The premiere set up the world in a way that didn’t necessarily stir up all of my love-feelings, but it was smart and rich and I really enjoyed it… and I have a feeling I’ll enjoy, even more, where it goes next.  Let’s just hope that enough of you feel the same way, so FX doesn’t cancel it.

The Americans FX show premiere family breakfast table

Grade of the episode, alone: B+
Grade based on where it’s going: A

Warning:  There be spoilers below!

I could probably talk about a lot down here, but I really just want to mention the dynamic of the two leads.  I love that their relationship can easily be summed by saying that she loves The Soviet Union and he loves her.  The entire episode centers around their capturing of a defected Soviet general, one who Russell’s character was raped by when she was a young woman training to be a spy.  Obviously, she’s kept that with her, and you can see it in her face when she confronts him alone, but this dynamic of husband and wife is clarified during the garage fight when they end up killing the general.  The husband is about to defect, himself, freeing the general, when the wife catches him.  She beats the general and is about to kill him when he says that he’s sorry for hurting her.  Without uttering the exact words, it’s very obvious what happened, and the husband picks up on it and repeatedly asks “How did you hurt her?  How did he hurt you?”  Of course, then he proceeds to pull the general up against the garage door and crush his neck with his bare hands.  Just moments before, this guy was ready to give in, but for his wife (not his country) there was suddenly no questioning his actions.

Oh, and the gross bald guy who likes young girls?  The moment I saw him again, later in the episode, I laughed.  I knew what was coming, but I had almost forgotten about him.. and it was pretty darn satisfying.  Keri Russell may do anything for the job, but her husband will do anything for his family.

I can’t wait to see how this all plays out :).

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About Mark Mushakian

Just a man who loves God, women, kids, dogs, movies, and every other lovely thing in life :)
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