Television audiences usually have little trouble embracing anti-heroes who are greedy mobsters, murderous gun-runners or ruthless drug lords. We like Tony Soprano and Walter White! (Well, for a few seasons, at least.) But are we ready to root for Soviet spies bent on destroying America during the early 1980s Cold War? Does it help that we know they don't succeed?
It's something you may ask yourself while watching "The Americans," a new FX drama debuting Wednesday night at 10. The show follows two married Soviet spies who pose as D.C. suburbanites while engaging in dangerous missions to do harm to the good ole U-S of A.
The double-life-leading spies, played by Keri Russell ("Felicity") and Matthew Rhys ("Brothers & Sisters"), are already under enough spy-related stress when an FBI counterintelligence agent -- a spy-catcher -- moves in across the street from them.
Coincidence? Probably, but that doesn't mean the couple is safe after the agent's spy-dar goes off during a casual house-warming visit. In fact, some of the tenser moments of the first two episodes involve such neighborly encounters.
Russell and Rhys are both very good in "The Americans," with Russell's Elizabeth Jennings being the tougher, far more serious partner in the thorny arranged marriage. Her husband Philip, though a capable operative, has gotten a little too comfortable with the trappings of the American lifestyle, and perhaps has gone a teensy bit soft (i.e. he's slightly less murderous). Philip would probably be just as happy to give up the spy game and chauffeur their two kids back and forth to soccer practice and school dances. Elizabeth would likely rat him out as a traitor.
The clashes between the couple, which are both personal and professional, are almost as interesting as their battles with defectors and their handling of valuable assets (often very innocent people) who can help them get information from high-ranking members of the American government.
It's a smart, engrossing drama with a fair enough dose of action to keep viewers from getting bored during the draggier parts. There are moments of real suspense, but most of the squirms come when you catch yourself hoping the bad guys trying to destroy the country don't get caught by the good guys hot (or at least warm) on their trail.
You'll have to figure that one out on your own...
"The Americans" debuts Wednesday night at 10 on FX. Note: The premiere episode runs 97 minutes. Encore episodes air at 11:37 p.m. and 1:14 a.m.