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'The Americans:' Still good, still frosty

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as Cold

(Credit: Handout)

"The Americans" returns tomorrow night, and because last season was such a winner, perhaps inquiring minds would like to know...another one?

"The Americans," FX, 10 p.m.

What it's about: The first season of "The Americans" ended last May with a wild chase involving Soviet spies, and "married" couple, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Phillip Jennings (Matthew Rhys). With FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) in too-close-for-comfort pursuit, Elizabeth is shot. Tonight's opener begins deep in the woods early one morning: Elizabeth has spent months recuperating at a safe house, and is set to return to active duty. Philip has been tending to family life, with Henry (Keidrich Sellati) and Paige (Holly Taylor) busy in school. But Paige is beginning to wonder: Why has her mother been gone so long, and where do her parents go in the middle of the night? Stan, meanwhile, is in much deeper -- mostly deeper under the sheets -- with double agent Nina (Annet Mahendru.)

My say: After nearly a year's absence, I'm happy to report that "The Americans" is still emphatically "The Americans" -- a superior television series by just about every measure: direction, story-telling, writing, plot and an immaculate performance by a pair of leads who fully inhabit not only their "real" selves but all the other selves that are part of their unusual daily grind.

Even so, "Americans" didn't fully break out last season, and the early episodes suggest this will remain a hard sell to a broader audience. Paige – trying to puzzle out her puzzling parents -- offers the best reason why: "It just feels like something is going on [and] I'd like to know what..."

Bingo. If they remain ciphers to their kids, how then must viewers feel? At times they are compassionate, other times vicious pre-programmed robots in abeyance to a regime and ideology rotting before their eyes. Who are they really? Good or evil? Or is that the wrong question altogether, and if so then what's the right one?

Surely that would offer the key to how we should think and feel about these two. But like their accessorized spywear -- wigs, glasses -- the personas continue to shift and shuffle, as chameleons who keep viewers off balance as much as their antagonists.

It's terrifically difficult to locate the heart, and without heart, love is hard to muster. "Like" -- or even "like very much" -- will do for now.

Bottom line: Still excellent, still hard to love.

Grade: A-

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