The spy game of the 80s is great in retrospect. But in the decade itself, our undercover heros were as cheesy as the music and the fashion. Roger Moore was the worst James Bond, and Crockett & Tubbs were hopelessly slick in Miami Vice.
But when we look back, the infiltrators seem so much cooler. Donnie Brasco is in my all-time Top 5 movies, and the new FX series The Americans kicks the genre's ass - at least after one episode.
So much tension and background information came out right out of the box that I'm hooked. But we'll get into the substance in a second. The style rocked.
The 80s music actually kicked ass, with Quarterflash's Harden My Heart and its distinctive sax riff preceding the first word of dialogue (and first blow-job) in the series. That was followed by an epic pulsating chase scene set set to Fleetwood Mac's Tusk. I still haven't gotten the Tusk beat out of my head. Also great in the shopping mall scene was Juice Newton's Playin' With The Queen Of Hearts.
Keri Russell fills out he mom jeans nicely, and the '77 Olds getaway car reminded me of The French Connection.
So high marks for nailing the audio/visuals of the era. But the story itself is pretty well-conceived.
There's the tension of the family dynamic and the mission. "Phillip" has adapted to the American family lifestyle, and can live it out for the right price. He longs to feel the love of his "wife" who is an agent first and a wife and mom second.
"Elizabeth" is the hard-ass officer, the presumed higher-ranking member of the sleeper team. Her loyalty is to the homeland, Mother Russia, for reasons we haven't yet been exposed to. She should have plenty of reason to hate the KGB, but evidently doesn't.
There's also the series-long cat and mouse game with the FBI guy across the street, which sort of reminds me of the dynamic with Walt and Hank in Breaking Bad. The superspies are one step ahead of the FBI at every turn and we don't know who to root for.
There were a couple of eye-rolls in the 90-minute premiere. There was the melee in the garage with the KGB defector who raped Elizabeth back when she was a cadet, with a ton of noise that didn't wake the kids or the neighbors. And the flashback sequences to Russia and the early days in the states made very little effort to make the characters seem 15-20 years younger.
But the show really moved. There's plenty of intrigue and a lot of sex. But the big hook is that the characters are believable and the husband and wife play non-traditional roles, especially for 1981. And anti-heros are big these days.
If we can embrace Tony Soprano and Walter White, then a couple of "Americans" shouldn't be so hard.