Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as Cold War-era husband-and-wife...

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as Cold War-era husband-and-wife spies in FX's "The Americans." Credit: Handout

THE SHOW "The Americans"

WHEN|WHERE Wednesday at 10 on FX

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Phillip Jennings (Matthew Rhys, "Brothers & Sisters") and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell, "Felicity") are by day the husband-wife owners of a small travel agency, who are living in suburban Washington, just after Ronald Reagan's election. By night, or mostly by night, they're Soviet spies who deploy various disguises and ruses to suck top-secret information out of moles or loose-lipped officials.

Theirs is an arranged marriage -- patched together in Moscow at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s. They were then deployed to Washington to blend in as average Americans. In tonight's 97-minute pilot, they capture a Soviet traitor to return to the authorities back home. But something goes wrong -- and then FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) moves in across the street.

MY SAY Rhys is another one of those gifted Brits -- he's Welsh-born -- who come over here to assume the part of an American as if the task were as easy as breathing. But just to make this a little more challenging for him, as Phillip, he's a Soviet masquerading as American, consumed by doubts about both roles, while raising a couple of kids (teen daughter, adolescent son)-- with an FBI counterintelligence agent living across the street, and an ex-KGB agent stuffed in the trunk of his car. The setup sounds more like a comedy than a drama -- and it probably would be a comedy, a bad one, if neither he nor Russell could pull off this balance beam trick. Yet, they do, and another satisfying FX drama is the result.

There are flaws in the premise, though none terribly serious or that can't be corrected as the series goes on. Why, for example, do their obviously savvy kids have absolutely no questions about why Mom and Dad are out at all hours and never seem to work at anything? Every spy drama (or movie) demands some suspension of disbelief, and this is no exception. But the pleasure of this setup is the Jenningses themselves -- their strange, sad sack stories, their conflicted impulses and their deepest, most secret thoughts. Buy them and you'll buy "The Americans."

BOTTOM LINE Smart newcomer with a pair of leads that turns "The Americans" into a likely winner.


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