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New This Week
A mesmerizing French series adopted by the Sundance Channel, “The Returned” feels a lot like the longest “Twilight Zone” episode ever, but also evokes elements of “The 4400,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Lost.”
It followed a handful of dead people who inexplicably find themselves unearthed, cleansed and returned to perfect health.
Some have been dead a few years, others decades.
All return at the age they died, and none have any memory of an afterlife.
Plus the local lake, full of mysterious and floaty wildlife, keeps changing its level; engineers cannot figure out why.
The impact on the lives of the returned’s families is fascinating and usually well imagined.
The season-one finale was both intriguing and frustrating, and perhaps more will be explained when the second season airs in 2014.
A taut, careful, well-imagined and often wildly compelling new hourlong from writer-producer Joseph Weisberg (“Damages,” “Falling Skies”), “The Americans” stars Keri Russell (“Felicity,” “Mission: Impossible III”) and Matthew Rhys (“Brothers & Sisters”) as a pair of Soviet spies who have been impersonating D.C.-area Americans most of their adult lives.
Set mostly in 1981, “The Americans” is no mere action-adventure construct. It is an effective piece of entertainment with a lot on its mind regarding loyalty, integrity, love, sacrifice and self.
Excluding flashbacks, the series makes its home in Ronald Reagan’s first term, roughly a decade before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings (their Soviet masters long ago forbid them to ever reveal to each other their real, Russian names and backgrounds) meet in 1962, when Cuban launch sites and nuclear missiles were all the rage. Though strangers, they are assigned to pose as married Americans, with the expectation that they will produce American offspring as part of their cover.
It’s clear the duo were recruited for, among many other reasons, their extraordinary attractiveness, as both demonstrate relatively few qualms about seducing and fornicating with relative strangers in the service of the KGB.
Elizabeth and Phillip love their two tween kids (who have no clue that their travel-agent parents are murdering Russians), but Phillip knows that on some level Elizabeth hates her own children because they are dirty Americans.
Though they do terrible things to innocents on behalf of the Soviet empire, the couple are clearly possessed of good atheist/socialist hearts, and remain throughout as sympathetic as Sean Connery and Sam Neill were in “The Hunt For Red October.” Elizabeth and Phillip despise the bad things they have to do to good people – but they’re also True Believers who have maintained their fidelity to the Greater Communist Ideals.
One of the producers behind the new series is “Justified” mastermind Graham Yost, and “The Americans” traffics a similar superior strain of badassery, not only among the two KGB protagonists, but in Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) , the FBI operative who coincidentally (?) moves in across the street from the Jennings. Beeman is a real go-getter, and I confess I came to love him a little during an episode-two shakedown of a mouthy electronics dealer.
I warn you that this is a series with a lot of characters and a lot of stuff going on, and you’ll want to play close attention from the get-go. Some hints: the fellow Elizabeth brings to orgasm in the series’ opening minutes is a U.S. Justice official who reveals how to find a rogue KGB agent who has defected and is now working with the FBI. The fellow with the perfect American accent trying to out-sprint Phillip shortly thereafter is the KGB rogue. The KGB rogue and Elizabeth, we learn, shared some quite memorable moments in the Old Country, though that is not clear at first.
Like “The Carrie Diaries,” “The Americans” is not shy about employing plenty of memorable ‘80s pop tunes, and I adored the use of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” to score the series’ first action scene.
For all the fun it provides, I will say the series may not be flawless. The coincidence of having FBI bulldog Beeman moving in across the street from the suburban Jennings home is an eyebrow raiser -- but nothing compared to Phillip’s seemingly mad decision to loan Beeman a pair of jumper cables, or Beeman’s decision to wander over to the Jennings’ garage in the middle of the night. But I have to admit I loved all these peculiar scenes.
I implore: give the supersized pilot a hard look, but know also the second episode is even better than the first.
... what makes the series so impressive is the way it treats the 1980s as its present, not its past. … Based on the admittedly small sample size of two episodes, “The Americans” feels like it could very comfortably slot in with the upper tier of FX dramas. That’s about as good as it gets.
… Critics were sent the first two episodes, and I was going to keep watching anyway, partly because Elizabeth and Philip are so good at deceiving everyone, partly because Rhys and Russell do a fine job of showing the cost of those deceptions, and partly because both are surprisingly convincing in their action scenes. But knowing Margo Martindale, formerly of FX's "Justified," will recur this season (she turns up in the third episode) is one more reason to put "The Americans" on the must-watch list. …
... a remarkable accomplishment: It’s a subtle, complex portrait of a relationship etched into an engaging espionage thriller …
... fresh, compelling …
... benefits from convincing performances by the cast, but Weisberg's concept and writing in the first two episodes make the show much more than "just" a spy thriller. …
... takes full advantage of three decades of TV evolution and the modern default setting we all share: It’s complicated. We now prefer our good guys to be the bad guys, and we enjoy sending them on a long, downward spiral. …
... When FBI counterintelligence agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich, "The Walking Dead," "Super 8") and his family move in across the street from the Jennings family, "The Americans" threatens to collapse under the weight of this what-are-the-odds? situation, but series creator Joe Weisberg, who worked in the CIA's directorate of operations in the early 1990s before becoming a professional writer, manages to make it all seem plausible. It helps that Beeman is not depicted as a bumbling gumshoe. He's more like Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) on "Breaking Bad" but without the bravado. And the premiere episode hints at a potentially interesting backstory for the character when he worked undercover among white supremacists. …
... a bold and exciting new series …
... doesn't go in for rom-com cuteness or sitcom gags. A tense drama re-creating a paranoid time in our history, it's more interested in wiretapping, hidden cameras and poison … The evolution of the couple's relationship is as engrossing as the strong-arm spy stuff. …
... Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are excellent in FX’s first-rate drama “The Americans,”… after the crammed (and super-sized) premiere, Weisberg reveals a sure sense of detail that bodes well for the future of the series. …
... "The Americans" unfolds a thoroughly seductive tale … Between the spy and family drama here, the dull moments are likely to be few and far between.
... While the first two episodes (including an extended premiere) contain enough promise to merit continued surveillance, what emerges is more notable for its '80s soundtrack and duck-and-cover-drill paranoia than its cat-and-mouse games or Cold War rekindling. …
... I enjoyed the first two episodes of FX's spy series The Americans as much as I did the entirety of season two of Homeland. (Remember, the beginning of Homeland's season two was perfectly pulse-pounding before a deep creative spiral began.) There is something about Americans -- which also explores spies and terrorism on U.S. soil -- that invests me with the same type of hope I had at the beginning of Showtime's gem. …
The Broker's Man 1.x
The Ellen Show: The Complete Series
Family Matters 4.x
Joanie Loves Chachi: The Complete Series
Laverne & Shirley 7.x
Midsomer Murders Vol. 23
My Little Pony 3.x
The Tick: The Complete Series $9.98)
The White Queen 1.x
The White Queen 1.x (Blu-ray)
Swamp People 4.x
Veep 2.x (Blu-ray)
T.J. Hooker 1.x/2.x ($14.98) NEW!!
Power Rangers Megaforce Vol. 3
Anger Management Vol. 3 NEW!!
Petticoat Junction 3.x NEW!!
Nikita 4.x (Blu-ray)
Adventure Time Vol. 6 NEW!!
Laverne & Shirley 8.x NEW!!
Transformers Energon: The Complete Series NEW!!
Barney Miller 5.x NEW!!
Happy Days 5.x
The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series NEW!!
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