I never got around to writing about The Americans last season, which did this fine show a disservice. And I’m a bit late on it again, what with actual stuff going on in my regular life. But I want to get this out before the second episode of the season airs. Of course, in 2014, when something airs is of relative importance. The real reason for my writing this is to encourage you to hunt down Season One and watch it, since 1) I don’t know of anyone other than Robin and I who are already watching, and 2) if you are already watching you don’t need my encouragement, and 3) if you haven’t been watching it, you need to start with Season One.
While Season One was a solid debut, the first episode of Season Two raises the stakes considerably. The premise of The Americans is that two KGB agents in the early 80s (i.e. Soviets) have buried themselves into American life as husband and wife, with two kids, living in the suburbs. The kids have no idea what is really going on. The couple were not a love match, but over the course of time, their marriage varies between “real” and “part of the job”. Their lives occur within real-life events of the time, and the series is both a spy drama and a commentary on marriage. Keri Russell, a long way from Felicity, is the wife; Matthew Rhys, a long way from Brothers and Sisters, is the husband. The supporting cast includes “hey, it’s that guy” stalwarts like Noah Emmerich, Richard Thomas (a long way from The Waltons … OK, I’ll stop), and Margo Martindale. Annet Mahendru, who has been bumped from guest to regular for Season Two, is a step away from being a breakout star: she’s doing a great job, she’s beautiful, and she speaks six languages.
The balance between spy story and marital expose was handled pretty well in the first season, although the marriage is not your standard variety … not when the man is also married to someone else, when both of them have other sexual relations to further The Cause, when they’ve got to keep their real agenda from their kids. The first episode of the new season really hit home in this regard, with some startling violence and more than the usual number of dead bodies. The Americans is not a comedy.
It’s ambitious, the way many FX shows are, and it has potential, which isn’t to say it doesn’t always deliver. I wouldn’t put it on the level of The Shield or Justified just yet, but, to switch networks for a moment, it may well turn out to be better than the more lauded Homeland. There is still time to get on the bandwagon. Grade for Season Two premiere: A-.