It is very rare that you have a near perfect episode, especially of a series on commercial television. But FX has done it here with The Americans. It is nearly flawless. Great mind candy for the thinking person, with something to come back to after the first viewing. I credit the success of The Americans to 3 things: Great script, great music, and Matthew Rhys.
The script is adult, no-nonsense storytelling built on an original premise, the Cold War. Those of us who are old enough remember this period, a period of the Russians-are-coming hysteria that was second only to the Civil Rights movement the decade before. An era very under- represented in film and ignored on the small screen, comes to life for a new generation.
Of course this era would be nothing without the music of this time and again, The Americans is flawless. “Harden my Heart” opens the series, and how appropriate. Disguised, and ready to perform sexual acts for information, we first meet the series heroine, Elizabeth Jennings whose heart is truly hardened. Fast forward to a back alley chase and we are introduced to our hero(?) Phillip to the pulsations of “Tusk” by Fleetwood Mac. “Tusk” is appropriate here too. Just think about it.
Must mention these disguises too, which are not your silly, unrealistic mission-impossible disguises. No, the disguises in The Americans are really disguises and surprisingly, with very little disguise. What makes these disguises work for the Jennings is that the Jennings can act. With each disguise is a new personality. Elizabeth does her disguise well but the master of disguise is Phillip.
Phillip, played by Matthew Rhys, is special, or should I say, Matthew Rhys is special as Phillip. Rhys takes the art of disguise to the next stage. He is authentic, nerdy and funny in disguise talking to Martha, reminding you of a young John Ritter. And then as the kick-your-ass, baddest-ass-kicking daddy of them all over a barbecue pit, Rhys is wonderfully dangerous, stellar, and I can’t get enough of him.
This series only has to live up to its pilot a little bit. The series has everything: originality, sex, espionage, suspense…did I say originality? And yes, Matthew Rhys who has the role of his life, I daresay, the role he has been waiting for, is the welcomed surprise here. Hat’s off to casting. Can’t wait to see what they are going to do with this.
Keri Russell On “The Americans”
Keri Russell in The Americans