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Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Americans- Season 1, Episode 1

Pilot- FX is trying to do what AMC has been doing for years with Mad Men: have a good original period drama. We tend to think the FX shows aren't as gripping as the AMC shows, even though they are technically good.

FX has Justified, which is extremely well-written to the point that the dialogue is so impressive it's distracting, but doesn't have characters we're emotionally attached to. Sons of Anarchy can be slow in between its bursts of violence. American Horror Story we love, but no one can deny it's a mess. We respect FX more for its cult comedies, like It's Always Sunny and (especially) Louie. This new show is a drama, so we approach it with trepidation.

Will it be engrossing or will it be dull? We found out that Gavin O'Connor directed this episode, and he directed the movie Warrior, which was anything but boring. He brought that ability to get us to care quickly to this episode. As with Warrior, the biggest part of the reason for this episode's emotional success was the acting.

The Americans is about Societ KGB officers/sleeper agents impersonating US citizens, even if that means marrying each other as a cover. So, yes, there is a huge marriage element to this show. This couple has been married and living fake lives for around 20 years. We like the premise and Keri Russell, so that's a start. Still, it's hard to make a show about the Cold War interesting when we all know how it turns out in the grand scheme of things. This has to be all about the characters, betrayals, and personal danger. Fortunately, it is.

One thing we hated was the opening, with all the sex and running around. We don't think this show needed to try so hard, and we don't like being strung along for more than 10 minutes without having some clue of what's going on. We also hated that there is a rape scene in a flashback. It's short, but it could still trigger girls with that in their history, so watch out. Can we hear more actual Russian in the flashbacks? Don't be lazy with the languages like 24 was, show.

It was also weird in the anthem-singing scene that all the women were singing the anthem as low as the guys, but if you take that key and start the song over (in the show, we only hear the second half of the anthem), you'll find that most women cannot remotely hit those notes without taking it up an octave. Also, this pilot didn't need to be nearly 70 minutes long. The confrontation scene and resolution was a little predictable, but that's O'Connor's schtick. Predictable, but really satisfying. There were a few "hell yeah" moments.

But all complaints aside, we enjoyed this. We like Elizabeth's character. She's one messed-up woman. It's sad, and her personal history keeps her from being "a bitch" that people can just chalk up as cold. The show set her up to be "complicated," which is better.

Also, her bad-ass side keeps her from being a victim and makes her choices the driving force of this show. Like any good TV mother, she loves her children and would be upset if they knew she was a Russian spy. Softhearted, positive (and slightly STUPIDER) Phillip is going to bring the romance element with all that pining. We feel bad for both of them, which means we care. That's half the battle for a pilot. Maybe most of the battle.

 It's nice to have a show with the main characters being a married couple in their very late 30s/early 40s. We were also impressed with how the flashbacks made the actors look so much younger, especially the guy. We also like the extra tension the show brought by having a suspicious FBI agent move in next door. For those of you who have seen the episode: Do you think any of that white supremacy BS rubbed off on him? It kind of sounded like it did when he referred to it as "deep."

Lots of fun all around, despite some silly elements.

Episode grade: B+


  1. Loved it! We keep losing great shows (mostly on the broad nets) such as Last Resort and Awake but then we also end up with something like this that is a success for the network and is on cable which has more creative freedom.

    Good shit, FX! FX hardly dissapoints in scripted TV and is consistent in bringing in good TV that also usually stays quality throughout.

    1. Cable is rocking it lately. Miss Last Resort :-(

    2. being as old as I am I have a sentimental feeling towards the cold war. This is why I loved Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, and Hunt for Red October. I loved the music as well, in fact I downloaded Tusk immediately after the opening scene which I loved.

      Did you recognise Stan as the nutty Dr in Walking Dead that told Rick the secret?

      anyway I thought it was fun and can't wait to see how it goes since I believe this is based on the spy transfer back in 2000s.

      one other point, as an Australian, I've always thought the ultimate doctorine of the USSR, not Russia, was well suited to the Republicans.


    3. I didn't recognize him! I was born in '87, so I pretty much missed all that. It's cool that you get that much out of Cold War stuff, because they make a lot of it, haha.