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Review: FX's The Americans

FX, Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 10 p.m. 1/28/2013 3:00 AM Eastern

FX goes undercover with its new drama series The Americans. The espionage thriller follows Soviet KGB agents Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) posing as a married American couple living in a traditional suburban community in the early 1980s.

The pilot weaves in news reports regarding the tense relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the early 1980s along with nuances from the period — typewriters used to develop reports and coin-operated, rotary public phones, to name a few — as a backdrop to the plot. It also uses flashbacks to illuminate how the two spies as early as the mid-1960s were trained and paired by Russian government officials to blend into American life while carrying out orders from the Kremlin.

The opening scene has the pair, along with another KGB comrade, kidnapping a highly decorated Soviet defector with plans on secretly returning him to Russia on a departing late-night barge. When the connection is missed, the Jennings are forced to keep the prisoner in the trunk of their car while they conduct their daily lives as the parents of two pre-teen kids.

The intrigue of the series develops slowly as Philip begins to consider taking a bribe from his prisoner to give up the spy game and live as a true American, but is rebuffed by his more emotionally withdrawn, mission- committed wife who would die before defecting to the U.S. The plot thickens as FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) — tasked to fi nd KGB spies in America — just happens to move across the street and immediately becomes suspicious of the Jennings.

The pilot episode, while plodding in its pace save for a few action scenes, leaves open several interesting storylines — the Jennings’ confl ict between love of country and the comfort of their current American life; the potential indoctrination of their children into their spy-based life and the awkward neighborly relationship between the Russian spies and FBI agent Beeman — that could make its first season a worthwhile watch for viewers.

October