Oh, how quickly we forget.It wasn't so long ago that The Americans, a Cold War-era espionage drama premiering Wednesday on FX, would have been widely denounced as anti-American propaganda.Today, it's just an intriguing premise and a novelty.The protagonists in this clever, compelling series are Soviet agents posing as a typical U.S. family in 1981 suburban Washington, D.C., where they engage in missions that undermine the American way.As series creator Joe Weisberg has blithely put it, "We want you to root for the KGB."At least he's not asking TV audiences to side with members of a contemporary al Qaeda sleeper cell. It's probably too soon to try to pull off that trick.The Americans stars Matthew Rhys (formerly of Brothers & Sisters) and Keri Russell ( Felicity) as Philip and Elizabeth Jennings.They're Russian-born KGB officers who were given cover identities, partnered in an arranged marriage and sent to the States in the 1960s. They've since blended in seamlessly as an ordinary couple with two adorable kids, ages 13 and 10, who have no clue what Dad and Mom really do.When, in the pilot episode, Philip and Elizabeth aren't running a travel agency or taking their kids to the mall, they're busy donning disguises and capturing a Soviet defector to send back to Mother Russia.In Episode 2, when they receive orders to place an eavesdropping device (amusingly primitive by 2013 standards) in the home of a top Reagan adviser, Philip goes to ruthless extremes to achieve his goal: If the adviser's housekeeper doesn't agree to plant the bug for Philip, her poisoned son will die.In short, the Jenningses are dangerous people working for a cause most viewers won't see eye to eye with -- which makes it quite a nimble feat of filmmaking that they come off as sympathetic characters, especially given that Russell, so adorable in most of her roles, plays a frosty, deeply damaged person here.Mind you, television today has a curious knack for creating unlikely protagonists, such as the drug-dealing lead character of Breaking Bad and the serial-killer title character of Dexter.Nevertheless, what would the neighbors say if they knew Philip and Elizabeth had kept the kidnapped defector bound and gagged in the trunk of their car in the garage for days on end?Speaking of neighbors, the Jenningses have a new one, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), who happens to be a brilliant FBI counterintelligence agent.They don't know if he moved across the street because their cover has been blown or if it's just pure chance, but they're paranoid that the FBI might be closing in.Meanwhile, Stan is suspicious that Philip is a little bit "off."The tension between these skilled agents is sure to build as the season progresses -- and our loyalties are sure to be challenged.
Political leaders, United States: Ronald Reagan, president; George H.W. Bush, vice president; Alexander Haig, secretary of state; Caspar Weinberger, defense secretary; William H. Webster, FBI director; William J. Casey, CIA director.
Political leaders, Soviet Union: Leonid Brezhnev, chairman of the presidium; Nikolai Tikhonov, chairman of the council of ministers; Yuri Andropov, KGB chairman; Dmitriy Ustinov, minister of defense; Andrei Gromyko, minister of foreign affairs.
9 p.m. Wednesday