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The Americans - Season 1 Review

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From the very beginning this show seemed very intriguing. With a great concept like two KGB spies living in the 80's suburban America, what could go wrong? Well, as it turns out, not much. With a great pilot episode ''The Americans'' hit the ground running right out of the gate and it never really slowed down. Joe Weisberg, the showrunner for ''The Americans'', is a relative newcomer to the small screen. His former credits only having written three episodes from the mediocre "Falling Skies'' and an episode from "Damages''. It would've been entirely understandable if the shows would've have collapsed from under him or ran into the ground, but that is not what happened. Alongside fellow executive producer Joel Fields, Joe Weisberg created a compelling and engaging drama about the insanity of spy life. 

We followed Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) and Phillip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) have a 'normal' life: raising two kids (to sell the lie they ware a happy normal wedded couple) amd running a travel agency as part of their cover. On the other side they had their spy life: going on various missions, which always required elaborate disguises and often involved having sex with or killing various people. What is perhaps the most brilliant part of the premise is that these are KGB spies, which is juxtapositioned against what such a show normally would be, i.e. followed from the eyes of CIA spies. It always felt genuine and enganging, even with their enemy being the United States government. And to top it off, because of the excellent writing and acting, you really came to care about and invested in the Jennings' family. Not enough praises can be sang about the great perfomances of the cast in general, but especially Rhys and Russell. Being a able to act your way though these intense spy scenes and on the other hand the warm family scenes is not a feat every actor could pull off and Rhys and Russell did this perfectly. Normally I'm not a shipper of two characters in any show, but I sure was rooting for these two characters to be together! Also, both have received nominations from the Critics Choice Awards, deservedly so, and we can only hope they go on to win these and an emmy for their terrific work!

Alongside Rhys and Rusell is a spectacular supporting cast, even the kids on the show were great. Both Paige Jennings (Holly Taylor) and Henry Jennings (Keidrich Sellati) were great. I can't give enough praise to that, usual child actors are more miss than hit. On to Claudia, played wonderfully by Margo Martindale, whom I loved to hate at first and then grew to like as the season progressed. She was a menacing old school KGB handler, who did her job any means necesarry. Which eventually lead to a great falling out between the Jennings and Claudia. Which fueled some great scenes between Russell and Martindale, who can forget "Tell whoever approved this that your face is a present from me to them!'' and "This isn't going to end well for you, old lady!''. With Martindale's pilot picked up to series, I fear it might be the last we've seen of Claudia for a while. 

Then on the opposite side there is Stan Beeman, played by the terrific Noah Emmerich, whom I liked at first and I grew to dislike over the course of the season. I feel dislike is to strong a word to use how I feel about his character, but he's been doing some questional stuff in the latter part of the season and I really can say I don't actually like him any more. Hopefully season two will delve more into his (back)story as there is a lot of juicy material there. Especially now that he had a falling out with his wife, Sandra Beeman (Susan Misner), and she has been announced as a regular for next season!

Also upped to season regulars next season are Martha Hanson, played surprisingly well by relative newcomer Alison Wright, and Nina, played by Annet Mahendru. Both are essentially 'innocent' office workers on opposite sides of the conflict, getting caught up in the plans of both the Jennings' and Beeman's.
Besides their situation being relatively the same, the two women differ like day and night. Which also reflects in the way they handle their situations. Martha, being terribly hurt in the past, is seemingly completely oblivious to the situation she is caught in and has now married the love of her life ''Clark''. Who doesn't exist, the whole scenario has tragedy written all over it. I certainly hope the writers don't go the predictable route by having her killed or Martha kill herself. I hope, when she finds out, she comes out stronger and maybe even has a more active role in taking the Jennings' down. Nina, on the other hand, already has found her inner strength and in the penultimate episode turns the tables on Beeman. The man who forced her to become a double agent in the first place. I'm very interested to see what happens with Nina next season as well.

There were however a few things I disliked about the first season, the fact that some plots were drawn out to mucht and Gregory. Let me first discuss Gregory, it wasn't so much the fact that he stood in between Philip and Elizabeth, it was more the fact that he felt like a caraciture. We knew very little about the character, other than him being turned by Elizabeth and being her lover, but seemingly he was a go-to-guy if there was something needing to be done. With so little explored about his character, his comments to Philip about him being the wrong guy for Elizabeth seemed petty and selifish. Which just made me want see the guy go, I think if they handled his character differently it could have been better. And it would have meant more. 

Which brings me to drawn out plots, the Philip and Elizabeth seperation story line was drawn out. Too much so, at the end it felt they were apart longer than they were together on the show. Also, there could even be said something about the fact this whole storyline took place in the show's first season. Though I can still draw positives from this; it worked. The fact that the seperation storyline worked in the show's first season is just another statement on how strong the writng and acting was. And it's resolution was brilliant, I had several theories in my mind on how'd they find their way back together. None of them were as simple and fantastic as Elizabeth asked Phillip, in Russian to “Come home. It was a great moment and I genuinenly felt empathy and emotion for them.

Overall these compelling characters we sympathize with in a morally grey world, where noone is trule good or evil, has made for a fascinating watch. What also stands out, is that the characters (and agencies) were smart, it is something that is usually an obstacle for a show with two sides at conflict. Where one is dumbed down for the other to get the upper hand or get away, etc. This is not the case with "The Americans'', actions had direct and logical consequences. Nina acted strange, they had her followed. Assassinate an assassin and he was prepared for it, because of how he was trained. A long the way there also were a few great twists and turns. For the characters nothing came for granted and it made for some great television. 

Besides the Nina and Martha storylines I mentioned above, there are some other great storylines waiting for season 2. With Sanford (Tim Hopper) in custody, Elizabeth recovering and Paige being suspicious I can hardly wait for season 2!

Rating: 9.5/10

Pascal Buijnsters Pascal's a Dutchman and has been a longtime commentator on SpoilerTV and started out as a writer for SpoilerTV last year. He is quite a TV addict and writes for a local, Dutch, newspaper. Next to that he's into soccer for his local team, a gamer and a fanatical swimmer. He writes previews and reviews for SpoilerTV for a variety of shows.

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