It appears as though the FX network is not fucking around. A week after airing the finale of American Horror Story, the network wasted no time and started airing a new drama series, which might just be the Next Best Thing on our
television computer screens. This new series goes by the name of The Americans and tells the story of a group of KGB spies, operating in America as sleeper agents in the midst of the Cold War.
I have to admit the first few minutes were a bit difficult to watch. A television series about the 80's which actually LOOKS like the 80's? And I'm talking about the whole package here. 80's music, 80's cars, 80's high-waist mom-jeans! And it's not just for hipsters, too! But let's be serious for just a moment. I did doubt I would enjoy the episode specifically because of the old-fashioned setup. The far-from vibrant colors which are so far off from what I've grown accustomed to in recent years. However, there were a few other aspects of the episode that kept me interested.
Giving Homeland a run for its money
Since the first time I actually heard of The Americans just a few days ago, I have already come across a comparison between the series and the acclaimed Homeland. I guess there is room to compare the two, at first glance. But not really, because judging by the pilot, it turns out that they are completely different. Apart from being set in a different time period, there are a number of major points that one should consider when attempting to pass The Americans as the Poor Man's Homeland. First of all, The Americans is far from being as intense as Homeland, in terms of plot twists and keeping viewers on edge. It is much more sensible and slow-paced, for now at least. While some might find that a fault, it was nice to see the show wasn't starting off by selling us some cheap thrills like Homeland was doing throughout what turned out to be two whole seasons.
Keri Russell's Elizabeth Jennings (aka my new girl-crush) could not be more different than Homeland's erratic female lead, Carrie Mathison. Finally, a woman who's actually got her head on straight! This, of course, is very much a personal preference. Like other female characters I absolutely loved over the years (Alias's Sydney Bristow and Firefly's Zoe among others), Elizabeth is a complex character whose vulnerability shows when she is alone, but who on the outside is composed, professional and in control. While I can see why many viewers enjoyed Carrie and understand that her craziness was mostly due to the fact that she was, well, actually crazy, I have to admit that I find Elizabeth's character much more appealing and in some ways, pretty inspiring.
Sleeping with strangers
One of the most enjoyable aspects about the pilot for me was uncovering the relationship between Elizabeth and her assigned husband-spy Phillip (Matthew Rhys, Brothers & Sisters). For two decades, the two have been living as a married couple, have built a family in America that is essentially nothing but a cover. They've never met each other prior to the arrangement, and suddenly they were husband and wife. Even if in the pilot we were supposedly shown that they do genuinely care about each other, what is the nature of that care? How much is real and how much is an act? The complexity of such a relationship is surely to be one of the most intriguing parts of series, and from what I can see, there is much to be unraveled.
The unconventional hero
Another aspect I found interesting is the choice of such obvious antagonists as the lead characters of the show. A bit like I previously discussed in my post about Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy, The Americans, too, chooses to take characters who are far from heroes and attempts to turn them into Good Guys. These are Russian spies in America we are talking about. Are there any shows nowadays whose protagonists are a bunch of terrorists, enemies of the United States? Here ,perhaps, we could see some kind of similarity to Homeland, whose portrayal of Sargent Brody as a terrorist was unconventional, to say the least. But still he was an American, and in the end he kinda sucked at being a terrorist anyway, so it wasn't that bad. Plus, Brody was actually made to be disliked for other reasons other than his treason, which saved us viewers the cognitive dissonance. I guess The Americans might sort of be doing the same thing, presenting us with lead characters who really are foreign, two-faced, loyal-to-the-Motherland spies and yet their American alter-egos might be the element which will eventually establish them as proper protagonists. Of course, the fact that thirty years have passed since the Cold War makes the whole thing a lot easier, however, I still find this un-American choice quite intriguing.
All in all, The Americans delivered a surprisingly strong Pilot. It has already succeeded in differentiating itself from other spy shows in terms of plot and setting, which certainly is a good start. Whether it will be able to keep the audience's interest remains unseen, but in the meantime there's no doubt fans of the genre should give this one a chance.
The Americans, FX, Wednesday at 10PM.