Like any good pilot, the episode diligently sets up the series’ framework – which is comprised of several elements that make cable television so popular and successful right now. First and foremost, The Americans has the benefit of being a period drama (still a plus by most networks’ standards), but this series, unlike many period drams, is driven by more than simply having the right attire and casually making mention of events happening at the time. Instead, with Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys playing Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, respectively, the plot deftly splits its time between the couple’s increasingly dangerous spy games and their otherwise prosaic existence as a family in the suburbs.
In that sense, The Americans has added elements of other great dramas like The Sopranos (nefarious stuff going on in the suburbs) and Homeland (government paranoia and fear that people aren’t who they seem to be) to its bag of tricks, but there’s also a whiff of AMC-fare like Breaking Bad, too. Still – in the pilot anyway – the series manages to take its conceit and make it successful by offering plenty of surprises and a decent amount of character building in the first episode.