March 29, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere TV Review: “The Americans”


THE AMERICANS:  Wednesday 10PM on FX

THE AMERICANS is coming off its first disappointing season, and the hope among fans was that it was attributable to the show receiving a final 2-season order, and showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields spending the first of those seasons indulging in such a long runway to the finale that it played as dithering about.  That hope seemed to be borne out by the season premiere of Season 6, which was immediately more urgent and focused than Season 5 had been.

Three years had passed since the end of Season 5, bringing the show to the final year of the Reagan era and also to the last throes of the Cold War-era Soviet Union.  Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) had followed through on the deal she had proposed in Season 5, allowing Philip to live a civilian life running their cover travel agency, while she continued as a full-time spy, observing and, when required, seducing Americans in order to learn their secrets.  The plan was working out for Philip, who seemed delighted to throw his efforts into the agency and son Henry’s (Keidrich Sellati) hockey team (and line dancing!).  For Elizabeth, though, the strain was showing, and she and her husband had less and less in common.  In addition, Elizabeth had successfully recruited daughter Paige (Holly Taylor), now a college student, to the cause, the two of them serving Elizabeth’s handler Claudia (Margo Martindale, a series regular in the final season).

The time clock of the season is ticking toward US/Soviet disarmament talks to be held 9 weeks after the beginning of the (10-episode) action.  Elizabeth was assigned, by hard-liners outside the normal KGB channels, to keep the Soviet negotiators from bargaining away what amounted to their Doomsday Bomb system, to the extent that agents in Russia would assassinate Mikhail Gorbachov to keep it from happening.  Meanwhile, Philip was contacted by ex-KGB agent Oleg (Costa Ronin), who flew in from Moscow, at the risk of his own life and new family, to convince Philip to spy in the name of the more left-wing members of the Party on Elizabeth’s actions.  This puts husband and wife on a collision course, although for now only Philip knows it.

The brilliance of The Americans has always been in the matter-of-fact, even drab way it dramatizes espionage in the context of a marriage, and those details enliven the premiere, which was written by Weisberg and Fields and directed by Chris Long.  Although Rhys and Taylor are excellent, the hour really belonged to Russell, whose Elizabeth was taut to the point of a violent, probably unnecessary murder of a boorish Naval officer who pressured Paige into handing over her fake college ID.  (By the end of the episode, was Elizabeth looking longingly at the cyanide pill she’d been given?)  The central mystery of the series has always been how Elizabeth would react if she felt that her husband had crossed the line and was betraying the Motherland, and that’s the conflict sliding into place.

There are, as always, a lot of moving parts in The Americans, and wrapping up a great show in a satisfactory way is one of the hardest tasks in television.  This premiere, though, provided encouragement that after last year’s misstep, the series is on track for its final destination.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."