Why ‘The Americans’ demands your attention

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Despite the intense promotions FX has given “The Americans” over the past few years, only critics and a very dedicated, but tiny audience watch. Its episodes struggle to reach a million viewers in Nielsen households.

“The Americans” is a deeply upsetting tragedy and the most engrossing spy thriller since the launch of Showtime’s “Homeland” in 2011. Nothing — not even HBO — is matching what “The Americans” has been pulling off in these last four episodes.

At the start of Season 4, Paige (Holly Taylor) knows her parents Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) are KGB agents and she is growing increasingly suspicious of them. She takes comfort in her pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin), who now knows Paige is in a household living with KGB sleeper agents. Tim slowly makes it more difficult for the Jennings to escape. The Jennings must keep their guard up without their marriage falling apart in the process. The United States won the Cold War with the Soviet Union in 1991, so the audience knows the KGB will not be around for much longer, which makes it all the more exciting and adds tension to the Jennings and how their lives will drastically change.

In addition to Pastor Tim, the Jennings next-door neighbor is growing suspicious of the family’s activity. They are often not at home, so Henry (Keidrich Sellati), Philip and Elizabeth’s son, spends most of his time at Stan Beeman’s (Noah Emmerich) house, an FBI agent trying to put an end to the sleep agent program the KGB has set up in the United States.

Most recently, Stan has noticed that Philip has been attending the EST or Erhard Seminars Training, a defunded program set to rehabilitates to get in touch with their feelings. Stan’s ex-wife Sandra  has also been attending these meetings with Philip which has led to Stan growing more suspicious of his neighbors and what they do when they aren’t home. There’s also the situation going on at work with Martha (Alison Wright) where Beeman believes she’s revealing secrets of the FBI’s plan to expose the KGB to her boyfriend Clark, who is really Philip in disguise. The tension builds in the Jennings household.

“The Americans” reminds me of “Breaking Bad” — the story is told with a careful pace so when major events happen, you feel a sense of a payoff and satisfaction.  One character’s story comes to an abrupt ending in the recent episode “Chloramphenicol.” With the recent controversy of shows like “The 100,” “Sleepy Hollow,” and “Arrow,” killing off several of the major characters, this came off as a bit of a surprise as the show was teasing for a potential optimistic send-off to the character for awhile. Was that a red herring, the dream sequences and promises this character received? Perhaps, but then again, this is the Americans an intensifying series in which no one is safe.

Despite the gloom, this show also features some of the best love of any period-piece show. Popular 1980s music is used to empower pivotal scenes. For example, at the end of the show’s first season, there is a montage set to the tune of Peter Gabriel’s “Games without Frontiers,” where each of the characters are returning home or discovering something to help better understand the KGB and FBI’s plans. Over the course of the show other popular songs like Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran,” and “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell have been used to make scenes as tense as possible.

It’s the show’s subtle moments that make it so great, like Henry discovering what an Intellivision game system is, or the Jennings going out to a carnival for a weekend getaway or bowling. Despite the serious circumstances the characters face, scenes like these in “The Americans” makes the show more lighthearted. The world isn’t always so dark unlike the many anti-hero shows of late have done (Dexter, Ray Donovan, Vinyl just to name a few).

If you’re not watching “The Americans,” you’re missing out what will very well will go down in history as one of the greatest shows of all time. All the episodes are up on Amazon Prime from the past few seasons and all current episodes are on FX Now. Yes, “The Americans” is as great as “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “The Wire” and of course “The Sopranos” and “Shield.” Joe Weisberg, the creator of the series, previously worked as a CIA officer for a good portion of his life, so there’s a level of realism he’s able to bring on to the show. FX is planning on the next season to be the last. If “The Americans” can keep up with the quality the show has delivered these past four years, the final season will be a hurricane to all viewers.  Brace yourselves — this is unlike any show you’ve ever seen out there, and one that warrants your full attention.

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