Those are the kinds of things we get in “The Americans.” It’s gritty, sometimes dark and unquestionably great to watch.
The show focuses on Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Russell and Matthew Rhys), a “normal” couple living with their two kids in 1981 suburbia. Of course, they’re not normal at all — they are instead undercover KGB agents on a long-term spy mission to undermine America.
Elizabeth and Philip are the heroes. As the show’s creator, Joe Weisberg, put it, “We want you to root for the KGB.”
“The Americans” is not the usual slick spy show we often see on television. It’s gritty, low-tech and there is a lot of fighting at close quarters. Both of the main characters get involved, and some of the results are rather impressive. In the pilot, for example, Russell’s character really does take down a rather large and scary man. “Her dance background lent itself perfectly to kicking men’s heads through walls,” her co-star Rhys pointed out.
Both of the spies at the center of the story show their toughness early on in the series. And both are scary. Russell’s Elizabeth, supposedly a loving wife and mom, is the scariest. “She scares the sh*t out of me,” Matthew Rhys explained of his TV wife.
The Cold War setting of “The Americans” keeps the spy action moving, and this may be one of the more accurate descriptions of true espionage on television. Weisberg actually was a member of the CIA in the 1990s, and the story of Russians living undercover for years as spies is based on a real case that only recently came to light.
Don’t look for a lot of historical figures to wander across the screen though. While historical events — like the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan — are touchstones that propel some of the action in “The Americans,” on-the-ground actors and mid-level events are more important to the show.
This is also a story of a marriage — Elizabeth and Philip were matched for their assignment, but actual love and passion have developed over the years. Even while digging up secrets, the Jennings family has to negotiate normal relationships as well.
Music and culture
Lots has changed in the 30 years since the time of “The Americans.” The cars and fashion will tell you that right away. It may, however, be a little surprising how familiar some of the music of the series is, even today. The Fleetwood Mac song, “Tusk,” for example, appears as the soundtrack to an extended action sequence.
The result is pretty spectacular.
“The Americans” premieres Wednesday, Jan. 30 at 10pm on FX.