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.
Much of the pilot is devoted to an ex-KGB colonel who has defected to the United States and is now the kidnapping target of Elizabeth and Phillip (along with another deep cover operative named Rob). In a stirring opening sequence, Phillip and Elizabeth get their man, but at the cost of Rob and, to an extent, the successful completion of their mission. After the botched operation, the couple has no choice but to keep the defector stowed away in the trunk of an Oldsmobile in their garage. The situation intensifies when it becomes clear the U.S. government is aware of the kidnapping, and then things get worse after it’s revealed the colonel was responsible for a heinous crime committed against Elizabeth when she was still a teenager in Russia.
All of this is compelling stuff. The pilot manages to wring sufficient tension out of a car sitting in a seemingly innocuous couple’s garage, but where the pilot really excels is in its depiction of Phillip and Elizabeth. For one thing, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are superb in their roles, which is so incredibly important since the real drama ultimately hinges on the actors’ interactions in a staged domestic setting and how that works against the show’s larger backdrop of historical fact (and the sometimes-overwrought spy game elements).