The Americans: Keep Dreaming

Pitchforks: 1.5/5

Season Premiere: Jan. 30.

Last Wednesday’s season finale of “American Horror Story: Asylum” left FX, as well as TV lovers nationwide, with a gaping hole in their Wednesday primetime schedules.

The network was probably over optimistic in hoping to adequately fill these large and bizarre shoes with its new cold war era spy thriller, “The Americans,” which lies somewhere between stodgy and stimulating in the purgatory of television mediocrity.

Set in 1981, “The Americans” explores the family dynamics of Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys), married Soviet KGB spies with two children living in plain sight in suburban Virginia and posing as average, boring, middle-class Americans.

This portrait of everyday Americans, who work as travel agents (ask your parents) and take their children to the local mall, is juxtaposed against the shadowy, secret lives of pre-internet spies who rely on cold drops, payphones and cassette tape recorders to perform their craft.

The show’s executive producer, ex-CIA agent, Joseph Weisberg told Time magazine that he and the show’s other creators wanted it to be “a show about a marriage, more than espionage, that shows how, even under the craziest circumstances, the marriage still looks and feels like any other marriage.”

This is where they botched the formula for making an interesting television show, because people who watch television are already married and living boring middle class lives. They would much rather tune in to watch the lives of spies, than see a marriage that, in many ways, mirrors the one they come home to every evening.

The reason behind focusing on the family dynamic is unclear, but if the show’s creators were attempting to make the viewer sympathize with Keri Russell’s calloused and calculated character, they failed.

For starters, she is a Russian spy trying to sabotage America on American soil. This is not exactly an easy archetype to sympathize with.

To compound the problem, she, unlike her husband, does not seem at all torn between the allegiance to her children and her allegiance to her country.

She is all about doing what is best for mother Russia and, upon arriving in America, she “sees weakness in the people.”

In the show’s first five minutes, we find her deceitfully two-timing her husband, whose character is also unlikeable in that he is indecisive and submissive to the point that he seems spineless.

Elizabeth’s infidelity is, of course, in the name of espionage (and probably to add to the show’s sex appeal), but it still doesn’t make the viewer any more sympathetic toward her.

At the same time, her stiff rejections to her husband’s sexual advances begin early and continue throughout the episode and she only relents to his desires in the wake of disposing of a body, adding to her cold-blooded and, some might say, sadistic demeanor.

One can’t help but draw comparisons between “The Americans” and Showtime’s Emmy award winning spy thriller “Homeland,” due to an almost identical concept and the presence of another familiar female TV lead, Clare Danes.

“The Americans” is “Homeland” light, set 30 years before, with “KGB officer” substituted for “Muslim terrorist.”

And a tired Keri Russell doing her best to convince the viewer that she is no longer Felicity, is a far cry from a revived Clare Danes actually convincing the viewer that she is no longer Angela Chase.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast of The Americans adds to the show’s uninspired air with mundane and forgettable performances all around.

The direction and cinematography do nothing to add to the show’s attempt at creating dramatic tension and the fight scenes and stunts are, at best, unconvincing.

The show’s crowning moment comes in the form of music, costume and set design, which give it an authentic 1980’s feel. Unfortunately, it isn’t even close to enough to save it from being mid-season, channel-changing fodder.

“The Americans” would have undoubtedly been better off as a show more about espionage than marriage, but even then, it probably would have fallen well short of compelling.

Reach the reporter at npmendo@asu.edu.