By the end of 2013, “Breaking Bad” will be long gone, “Mad Men” may or may not have one more season in queue and “Homeland” will likely be continuing its slide from Emmy-caliber drama to a show that’s reminiscent of “24” in all the wrong ways. Some have dubbed the last decade or so in dramatic television as sort of a “Golden Age,” an argument that is easy to argue both for and against.
As one with serious interest in TV drama, this concerns me. (Sure, “The Walking Dead” will roam the landscape for years to come, but that’s more of a second-tier show in the giant pyramid of TV dramas in my head.)
The Wednesday arrival of FX’s new series “The Americans,” however, has given me a bit of hope for the future. It’s foolish to use one 90-minute pilot as a peephole into the future, but it’s at least a glimmer of hope. Netflix is set to debut its “House of Cards” this weekend – another new product getting critical praise – which could be another big-swingin’ drama to carry us into the post-“Bad Men” era.
“The Americans” is centered around two KGB spies living in American suburbia in 1981. The setup is nothing groundbreaking – it’s a pair of characters living a double life. In a medium where Dexter Morgan is a blood-spatter analyst by day and serial killer by night and Walter White is a chemistry teacher (or unemployed, cancer-stricken dweeb) by day and a meth kingpin by night, the team of Phil and Elizabeth Jennings (played by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russel) acting as parents and neighbors while secretly harboring a bound-and-gagged fugitive in their garage is nothing new. Heck, even the idea of a spy sleeper cell squirreled away in D.C. – where the Jennings couple live – is straight out of a brief “Homeland” synopsis.
A spy-hunting FBI agent coincidentally moves in across the street, and just like that, “The Americans’” table is set. (Again, this mirrors Dexter’s sister working for Miami Homicide or Walter White’s brother-in-law being a DEA agent. But whatever.)
The all-to-familiar premise doesn’t mean “The Americans” can’t still be fresh. One instance immediately sets them apart: Where wives in TV dramas have become nothing more than bickering, complaining drags – here’s looking at you, Skyler White, Carmela Soprano, Jessica Brody and early-seasons Betty Draper – “The Americans” features a “wife,” Elizabeth, who is constantly more gung-ho about carrying on their spy activities and being more willing to dirty her hands than Phil.
“The Americans” earned itself a spot on my weekly DVR schedule with it’s exciting, “Tusk” and “In The Air Tonight” utilizing pilot. Here’s hoping it’s a sign of things to come.
(Here’s looking at you, “House of Cards.”)
“The Americans” airs at 9 p.m. Wednesdays on FX.
–Shane Nyman, snyman@postcrescent or on Twitter @shanenyman