With its second season concluding (spoiler, obvs) with the revelation that Philip and Elizabeth’s daughter, Paige, had been targeted by their Soviet masters for inaugurating into the world of covert espionage, “The Americans” definitively shifted its focus from the Jennings’ marriage to their family — two overlapping but not identical areas of interest. In its third season, which begins tonight, the exploration of what parents give their children, and what they owe each other, is everywhere. Not just in the lingering threat of Paige’s recruitment, which would require informing her that her entire life with her deep-cover parents has been based on a lie, by in the audio tapes sent by Elizabeth’s mother, informing her in unsubtitled Russian that she is dying. Although “The Americans” is still having trouble drawing an audience commensurate with its critical acclaim — were they equal, it would be one of the highest-rated shows on TV — the new season offers plenty of enticements for newcomers, and, in next week’s sure-to-be-talked-about second episode, a sequence likely to draw it the kind of social-media spike the show too rarely experiences. (No spoilers, but watch it live.) Its previous 26 episodes, most easily available through Amazon Prime, show how much the show has grown in its first two years, and what we’ve seen of the next batch indicates it’s only going to keep getting better.
Reviews of “The Americans,” Season 3
Todd VanDerWerff, Vox
“The Americans” is also the best show on television, by a fair amount, and this is a great era for the medium, with terrific series bursting out all over. The show combines the slow-build intensity of Breaking Bad’s plotting with the emotional acuity of “Mad Men’s” character work, and it spices all of this with a mordant sense of humor and one eye turned to the geopolitical spheres of the ’80s, spheres that look more than familiar if you squint. It’s a show about how nations can never quite understand what the other is going to do, because people fundamentally can’t understand each other, blinded as we are by our own perceptions, our own inability to get out of our heads.
James Poniewozik, Time
As the season unfolds, the tension in the Jennings household echoes in the espionage stories, which in various ways also involve parents and children, the choice between security and idealism, between loyalty to family and loyalty to the larger cause. In its melancholy way, “The Americans” seems to be speaking to today’s America and its generation of helicopter parents, who often find out that as hard as it is to take care of children, it can be even harder to let them find their own way.
Willa Paskin, Slate
As is “The Americans'” way, ideas and ideologies — Philip and Elizabeth’s soft- and tough-love approaches — start to ping-pong off each other, and contemporary mores, in satisfying ways. Philip wants to protect Paige, yet for work, he is soon sweet-talking an underage girl barely older than Paige, who simultaneously helps him connect with his daughter. Elizabeth, the more emotionally conservative of the two — unlike Philip, she’s not just devoted to Mother Russia, but disgusted by the general softness of America, the widespread ambition to live a comfortable life devoted to nothing at all — argues that Paige would be a good candidate for the Soviets because the church she is so involved with has all the “right kind” of anti-apartheid, anti-nuclear, lefty values. She’s the progressive who throws her kid into the deep end of the pool.
Joshua Alston, A.V. Club
As effective as “The Americans” is as a meditation on marriage, it’s an even more powerful parenting allegory. Elizabeth and Philip watch with equal admiration and horror as their children transform into autonomous individuals. That’s a typical parental experience, but it’s atypically intense for the Jennings, with the ramifications of Paige’s maturation casting shadows over a nation of nearly 300 million — not to mention America.
Ben Travers, Indiewire
Most parents would say they’d do anything to protect their family, but Elizabeth and Philip have to face that question more often than traditional couples. Paige’s fate is tied to not only the future of both Russia and America, but her parents’ happiness and their marriage’s longevity. As he did for the first two seasons, Weisberg has crafted a scenario requiring a rapid reaction from all the characters involved, upping the stakes and elevating the repercussions, but one that does not diminish the possibility for bountiful returns.
Brian Lowry, Variety
Mixing the micro and the macro, the FX series grapples with questions surrounding the central couple’s daughter, while finding the Soviets in near-panic mode over the Vietnam-like quagmire that Afghanistan threatens to become for them. Throw in the arrival of Frank Langella in a supporting role, and it’s a solid start to a show that, despite its flaws, has quickly grasped the mantle of being perhaps the network’s most-heralded series.
Hank Stuever, Washington Post
Some dissatisfied readers have told me they find the show too cold to the touch and bereft of any hope. Yet, for all its exhilarating, high-anxiety sequences of Cold War espionage (including a gruesome, sure-to-be-talked-about scene this season that serves as a how-to lesson in getting a dead body out of a fancy hotel room), “The Americans” is, at its most essential, a deeply felt drama about a family eroding from within. It’s painful and tense.
Melissa Maerz, Entertainment Weekly
“The Americans” has always made a strong case against blindly following any sort of dogma. But the new season also poses an interesting question: Is it okay to instill your beliefs in your own kids? This debate gets even trickier as Elizabeth trains a new recruit who’s young enough to be her son, and Philip flirts with a woman who’s not much older than Paige in exchange for intel. When Philip sees an ad for Love’s Baby Soft on TV (“So innocent, it could well be the sexiest baby around!”), you can see his resolve to exploit this young mark—or Paige herself—for the cause start to weaken. Manipulating adults might be fine, but kids are a different thing.
Chris Cabin, Slant
“The Americans” locates a stirring balance between the brooding, heated familial melodrama and the equally taut, often lethal procedures of its infectious spy drama in ways that often evade works set in the 1980s. For Weisberg and company, the attention is less on the characters donning Springsteen jeans or Cyndi Lauper hairdos than how they reconcile their individuality with their accepted national identity and “duties.”
Ken Tucker, Yahoo!
I’m especially glad to see “The Americans” place more weight on Russell’s Elizabeth, who has really surged to the forefront of this show. Where Philip is torn between opposing theories of how countries should be governed, Elizabeth embodies that tension and more — passing as an American women in an era strained by the contradictory impulses of second-wave feminism and Reagan-era conservatism. And it’s not a theoretical for Elizabeth: She’s coming to terms with her own strict upbringing, her longing for her homeland, and her profoundly ambivalent feelings about American permissiveness on the one hand, and the strict discipline of turning her own daughter over to become a tool of the Soviet state.