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the americans1Felicity is a spy and she’s working for the Russians! This may be wishful thinking, but Keri Russel is a Russian spy working in America during the early ’80s in the new FX show “The Americans”. Along with Matthew Rhys, who plays her husband and sleeper KGB spy partner, they pose as a married couple living the suburban life at the beginning of the Reagan era.

Linking Russel back to her breakout character might be doing her a disservice. She has given excellent performances since then in films like Waitress and Mission: Impossible 3. Although the possibility of Felicity being a spy is not a new one. At a PaleyFest panel, Felicity’s creator J.J. Abrams explained that during the third year of the show the writers were having a hard time coming up with new stories. They began throwing out crazy ideas in order to find something to work with and get the ball rolling again. He knew there were CIA recruiters on college campuses and it would be great for the character because it was a big secret she would have to keep from everyone. However, the fact that there was no inkling of this in the Felicity pilot killed the idea in the room. Instead it led to the development of “Alias”, a show about a college girl living a double life as a CIA spy.

Russel may not have had the chance to learn any spycraft for Felicity but she certainly has the skills in “The Americans”. The pilot shows off the combat abilities of the two leads. At one point Russels’ character, Elizabeth Jennings, handily slams an opponents head through a wall. Rhys manages to play both the deadly and the mundane aspects of Philip Jennings, a balancing act that gives the character a surprising likeability. This contrasts with the icy nature of Elizabeth, who is fiercely loyal to the Russian homeland while Philip has come to appreciate his life in America and toys with the idea of defecting.

And the drama ratchets up a notch when a FBI agent moves in across the street.

The show has an interesting premise but a difficult mandate. It asks us to root for “the enemy”. Do we want the FBI agent to catch the Russian spies on American soil? Or do we want Elizabeth and Philip to save their family and find a place for themselves without being crushed under the weight of two warring superpowers? So far the show has managed to walk that fine line, keeping us invested in both perspectives. Eventually the show will have to commit to one side or the other, as Philip and Elizabeth will have to. It will be interesting to see where they land.

Watch the Pilot



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