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There is quite a lot of hype about this show, it has all the ingredients that seem to work these days, with plenty of wigs and contemporary (60s and 80s) costumes, and with a cold war atmosphere of snooping and spying that seems to experience a renaissance .

The starting point of a Russian KGB couple embedded in American society is nice enough and provides for some promising expectations, some of which come to play already in Season 1: apart from the generally complicated task of getting information on US missile defense systems, FBI operations and foreign policy, the interesting bit is how to make this work while living a supposedly regular suburban life with children and colleagues, and living a bunch of parallel relationships while trying to figure out what the own marriage is all about. And then there is that neighbour… that neighbour is an FBI counterintelligence officer and is played by an immensely intense Noel Schumacher, fighting his own demons at work and at home, and honestly being the one character that is truly interesting (maybe with the exception of that KGB granny of “Justified” fame).

As these shows go, you are dealing with a mix of long-term narrative (all  marriages disintegrating, the FBI guy’s relationship with a KGB staffer turned to become an FBI snitch) while providing crime-show-like one-off suspense through the missions our spying heroes have to complete. The latter I could do without, actually, I feel the show would benefit from allowing its characters to have a more long-term approach, a Soprano-like appreciation of life being mostly about nothing special happening, even amidst a life of crime, and this nothing special being the engine of fate.

One interesting aspect is that the two “illegals” (i.e. Russian spies) we are to identify with are quite nice people, while committing all sorts of crimes. Does that qualify as a moral dilemma? Not really actually, maybe because by now we are used to this in quality tv, but I felt it easy to accept that most of the people affected by fatal violence had it coming one way or the other, by being not very nice people, or by choosing a line of work that frequently gets you killed.

The twist that worked for me quite nicely is that any audience perception of “them” being the bad guys despite being nice guys, and “us” being in a position to do whatever is needed to defend against them, is shattered halfway through the show by showing that moral integrity is not as clearly allocated as some might have wished for. Hence: no more good guys / bad guys scenarios, but rather a fierce war for survival frequently thwarted by uncalled-for emotions and personal affections. If they carry this ambiguity into season 2, there is a chance for the show of getting from pretty good to pretty damn good.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2149175/

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