If I was flipping channels and stumbled on the premier of FX’s new television show The Americans, I would have stopped watching it within the first three minutes, thanks to a sex scene, a confusing chase scene, and an abysmal lack of anything interesting.
The show—the brainchild of CIA-officer-turned-screenwriter Joe Weisberg—takes place in the early ’80s and tells the story of two KGB sleeper agents living in the United States. Married, with two lovely children, and a large home in Falls Church, Va., Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) are the average suburban couple.
But when darkness falls so does their charade, and we see them for the KGB agents they really are—very boring ones. They spend most of the show quarreling about whether they should kill the kidnapped KGB defector tied up in the trunk of their car.
After 15 years of living undercover, Philip has grown fond of the United States—the shopping malls and cowboy boots, its overall brightness (a caricature of freedom?), and his children (who have no idea their parents want to destroy their world). He’s ready to defect and start a new life.
Elizabeth is aghast that he would consider such treason. She loves the Motherland and would “lose everything before betraying her country.” That’s intriguing, since the “Motherland” allowed her to be sexually abused by a senior officer. Oh yes, he’s the one tied up in the trunk. No wonder she wants to kill him.
With such a plot line, it’s hard to believe they needed actors at all. They could have used stick puppets. On second thought, maybe they did. Russell is supposed to be steely and grim. Most of the time she just looks grumpy. Rhys shows more emotional turmoil, but even that is paper-thin, ruining the only chance the show had of accurately portraying the ideological, geopolitical, and very real conflict between tyranny and freedom.