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'The Americans': 5 reasons to watch TV's hottest Cold War drama

By Thom Patterson, CNN
February 26, 2014 -- Updated 1313 GMT (2113 HKT)
Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as KGB spies in FX's
Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as KGB spies in FX's "The Americans."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • FX's Cold War drama "The Americans" returns February 26
  • Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as undercover Russian spies
  • Now in its second season, it will focus more on love and family

Editor's note: This article contains some spoilers about FX's "The Americans."

(CNN) -- FX's Cold War drama "The Americans" is about to blow its cover.

After quietly spending its first season in 2013 flying under the radar, this spy series is poised to be exposed as the discriminating TV fan's favorite addiction.

On the surface, the '80s-set series from Joe Weisberg is pretty straightforward: two KGB agents, played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, pose as a mild-mannered married couple with two kids in the suburbs of Washington during the Reagan administration.

No one knows what these two are actually doing when they're working at their "travel agency," and that includes their two children, teenager Paige (Holly Taylor) and her younger brother, Henry (Keidrich Sellati).

The potential for plot twists alone would seem reason enough to watch, but what's kept viewers glued to their sets is the series' complexity. "The Americans" has heart-racing suspense, but also high-minded reflections on the politics of love, marriage and loyalty.

So, after a nine-month hiatus, we're more than ready to welcome back FX's weekly dose of espionage, '80s pop culture and Cold War killing. And with its second season, "The Americans" is going to have a tender twist: a focus on love and family amid the thrills and intrigue.

When last we saw our Russian spies-next-door, Russell and Rhys' Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, they'd narrowly escaped a trap set by their neighbor, FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich). The new season picks up with Elizabeth and Philip, who've had a rocky relationship to say the least, reuniting at their home with heightened sensitivity for keeping their children safe from their deadly lifestyle.

There are so many questions to answer: Will the Jennings kids learn the awful truth about their parents? Can Philip and Elizabeth make their bizarre marriage -- created under the guise of accomplishing a mission and now something more -- work out? And what about Beeman, who's still clueless that his neighbors are the spies he's been chasing with a passion?

In honor of the return of "The Americans," we give you five reasons to put it on your TV surveillance list:

Best excuse to "do laundry in the middle of the night"

In season one, the laundry room was the perfect cover for Elizabeth and Philip's KGB operation. But the Jennings' daughter Paige is getting older — and savvier. She's starting to notice her mom and dad are spending a little too much time "doing laundry" in the basement. If she snoops too much, she might uncover her parents' secret stash of spy gear. Oops! (How do you think they'll be able to explain THAT? "Honey, do you know what a 'license to kill' is?")

More wigs than a Dolly Parton concert

Let's put aside the show's reputation as a critical standout and focus on its notoriously bad wig collection. With this being a show about spies, the ridiculous disguises come in spades. It seems like every episode offers a fantastic excuse to trot out a spectacular set of fake teeth, false mustaches and dyed hair.

There are so many different combinations, Rhys has even picked a favorite. "I've named him; he's called Fernando. He has longish hair. We actually saw him in the first episode of the first season when he beat up someone who was being rather lascivious with his daughter at a department store," he told reporters during a recent conference call. "He has, like, a mustache and long hair and a little goatee, and he feels very Latin to me."

Dear show runners: Please keep 'em coming!

Best show with spouses who have an understanding about on-the-job sex

It must be hard for Philip and Elizabeth to fix their marriage while they're both having sex with their sources. Or, for that matter, when they're tying the knot with them. (Hey, whatever it takes to defend the Motherland!)

In season 2, Philip's "marriage" to FBI administrative assistant Martha Hanson (Alison Wright) is making his life even more complicated.

"They plant such a beautiful seed of conflict within Elizabeth," Rhys said. "She's been this stalwart, this hardline, hard-nosed agent for so long, who's still incredibly loyal to the cause, (and now) she has this great enormous struggle within her where she realizes that she has these feelings for Philip. ... (As) a device it's rather fantastic, but it certainly takes its toll on the relationship."

Best show with multiple 1980s pop culture references

Is it wrong if we secretly hope that "The Americans" does for the '80s what "Mad Men" has done for the '60s? From leg-warmers to high-waisted jeans to an '80s soundtrack, we love this show's playpen of anachronisms. This season, look for references to a real-life relationship guru, excellent movies on VHS and a new Soviet spy who loves rockers like Rod Stewart and Blondie.

Best timing EVER for the season premiere of a Cold War drama

We don't think FX's marketing team could have possibly thought up a better coincidence. The new season just so happens to kick off while U.S-Russian tensions have been on the rise. CNN's own Political Ticker had to double-check its calendar the other day while asking, "The Cold War is over. Right?"

If that's not enough, here's a secret sixth reason: The writers have set up a carefully layered examination of human behavior that is teetering on the edge of disaster, not unlike a table of human dominoes. When the first one falls, it should be deliciously fun to watch.

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