January 30 should be an exciting day for television audiences. We will get to see the premiere of FX's The Americans, a spy drama centering around KGB agents masquerading as American citizens in 1980's America. The show is destined to find a niche audience on its home FX; it is unlike anything else on television now, and is produced by Graham Yost, one of the creators of FX's Justified.
Having said that, it is easy to want to compare The Americans to Homeland. But truthfully, the only comparison that can be made is that they are both dramas centered around spies and terrorist organizations. Homeland is set in the present, with the enemy being Al-Qaeda and other similar terrorist organizations. The Americans, while still honing in on the espionage angle, is unique, in that it will take viewers back in time, when the main threat to American security was coming from Russia. The story is set in 1981 at the time of Ronald Reagan's inauguration, with Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys playing married Russian KGB spies; the twist is that they are pretending to be American citizens ... and to the outside world, no one would know the difference. Appearances can be deceiving, which is the premise of the show.
But their lives are far from ordinary. Both characters are highly-trained spies in an arranged marriage. The pilot opens with an attempted kidnapping of a KGB agent who turned. One reason why I think this show will be successful is the pairing of Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. Keri Russell has been a successful actress on television and movies for a number of years. But, as of late, she has yet to find a vehicle suitable for her talents. Rhys too has lacked a starring vehicle to showcase his skills as a dramatic actor. Together, they should make a stirring pair.
Something else The Americans brings to the table is constant intrigue. It's the "are they or aren't they" dynamic that plays so well in serial dramas. Who are these people and what do they want? And this show, while using the true to life details of KGB spies infiltrating America, has a tone that is perfect for today's climate of heightened fear and trepidation.
Who are our neighbors really? It's what we don't know about someone that terrifies us. And the truly frightening theme behind The Americans is your very neighbors could be your enemies. Judging by outside appearances, it's impossible to tell who the enemy is and what he or she wants. This is the premise behind Homeland, but the threat is more defined. In The Americans, we can't tell the difference between a Russian spy and seemingly normal American citizens. How this plays out in a series should be riveting.