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Primal Screen

'The Americans': Spies in the suburbs

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Keri Russell in 'The Americans'


The Americans (9pm Wed, FX)
We’ve seen many dramas about married couples living a lie in the suburbs, with tensions cracking the cheery façade. The lie in The Americans, however, is bigger than most. Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) are KGB agents passing as a normal American couple during the Reagan era, with two normal kids. The kids, in fact, really are normal, having been born in the U.S. and knowing nothing about their parents’ real identities. Elizabeth is troubled that they’re growing up without socialist values, but she would never blow her cover by telling them the truth. Philip, on the other hand, is beginning to wonder why the two of them don’t just flip to the American side and live happily ever after, sans murder and kidnapping.

The Americans dares us to sympathize with the most unsympathetic of protagonists as they try to undermine our way of life. Sympathy is possible only because Philip and Elizabeth emerge as believable human beings, with doubts and fears and backstories. Besides the logistical problems of their lifestyle — including a snoopy FBI agent who’s moved in next door — they’re not quite an actual couple. The KGB arranged their marriage for the purpose of this mission, so they’re ambivalent about one another even after a decade-plus together.

Indeed, ambivalence is the keynote of The Americans. I can’t wait to work out my own mixed feelings about it over the course of the season.

Do No Harm (9pm Thu, NBC)
Dr. Jason Cole (Steven Pasquale) is an eminent surgeon and a solid citizen — at least for 12 hours a day. At night, his alter ego comes out to indulge in 12 hours of gleeful mayhem. Jason is all too aware of his nightmarish doppelganger and tries to keep him bottled up via experimental drugs. That just makes the bad Jason angry, so he sets out to ruin the good Jason’s life.

Do No Harm is an effective variation on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The new series makes you feel the good Jason’s distress, thanks to Pasquale’s brilliant performance. Actually, make that two brilliant performances. Pasquale is just as convincing as the bad Jason, scaring you to death with the prospect of pure id on the loose. The scariest moments are when the good Jason wakes up with only a vague sense that “he” has done something horrible.

“You will not see that side of me again!” he tells a freaked-out colleague who, he gathers, has been victimized by his alter ego. “I promise!”

Those of use who’ve read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — or who’ve labored to bottle up our own bad selves — can sense the futility of that promise.

Super Bowl (5:30pm Sun, CBS)
Two weeks ago, Beyoncé blew away the multitudes with her “Star Spangled Banner” at President Obama’s inauguration. Now she’s fixing to blow us away again with her Super Bowl halftime extravaganza. I think we can all agree that the woman is capable of kicking any event to the next level — so why not hire her to sing at every important national telecast? Even next year’s State of the Union address might be watchable with a “Single Ladies” intro.

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