Welcome to Pilot Perception, our feature in which we break down the first episode of each new show in order to help you decide whether it’s worth your time.
The Pedigree: The show was created by former CIA officer Joe Weisberg (Falling Skies), who wrote the pilot. He’s executive producing with Graham Yost (Justified). The pilot was directed by Gavin O’Connor (Warrior).
The Cast & How You Know Them: The Americans stars Keri Russell (Felicity) and Matthew Rhys (Brothers and Sisters). Other regulars include Maximiliano Hernandez (Ringer), Noah Emmerich (White Collar), Margo Martindale (Justified), and relative newcomers Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati.
The Premise: The Americans is about Russian spies working as sleeper agents in the United States in the 1980s, during the Cold War, and specifically Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, who were placed in the U.S. after an arranged marriage and have two children who don’t know who their parents really are.
What Works: This was one of the best pilots I’ve seen in a while; I love spy stories and especially Cold War spy stories, and this one did not let me down. The writing and acting were superb, and Keri Russell and especially Matthew Rhys are strong, compelling leads. Their characters are remarkably complex, given for how short a time we’ve known them, and I’m already invested in their story and the welfare of their family. The spy elements and domestic elements were well-balanced in this pilot, and flashbacks were well-deployed to fill in the essential parts of their histories. The 1980s setting was made vivid with the use of music, fashion, cars, and more.
What Doesn’t: I really loved this, so I don’t have a ton to say here. There were a few moments when bits of dialogue jumped out at me as possibly anachronistic, but they weren’t so prominent as to be annoying. I think one of the main challenges the show faces going forward is the question of whether rooting for the main characters means that the audience has to root for the Soviet Union and against the U.S. They should be able to make it more nuanced than that, especially if and when the characters’ allegiances waver, but it’s a careful line they’ll have to walk.
Our Favorite Line: “Why is everyone so punctual in this business?”
You Might Like This if you like spy dramas, historical fiction set in the recent past, and stories about complicated marriages and families. The combination of intimate personal dramas and high-stakes espionage-related tensions reminded me of Homeland, and the time and subject matter of course made me think of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and other Le Carre, though this is certainly more action-packed.
(Photo courtesy of FX.)