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Categorized | Editorial, TV Editorial

FARGO and THE AMERICANS: The Best Shows on TV You’re Not Watching

Posted on July 13, 2014 at 7:12 pm by Amanda Andonian

We’re in the summer doldrums of TV, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a bunch of great shows out there to watch. In my opinion, FX is running some of the best. Since it is a subscription cable channel, you do need to have a TV provider in order to catch up with these two shows online, but I think it’s well worth hitting up your parents or bothering your friends in order to familiarize yourself with these amazing examples of storytelling and acting prowess.

the-americans

The Americans

Starring Keri Russell (Felicity) and Matthew Rhys (BBC’s Pride and Prejudice) as Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, the show follows the convoluted lives of these two deepcover KGB agents trying to pass as American during the Reagan administration. They have two young children, who have no idea what their parents are, and so Elizabeth and Phillip must walk a thin line between being parents and serving Mother Russia. Since living a lie makes a difficult basis for a marriage, the relationship between Elizabeth and Phillip is constantly strained by the banality of everyday life juxtaposed with the ever present danger of their spy activities.

Russell and Rhys have an amazing chemistry, and they play Elizabeth and Phillip perfectly. Elizabeth is so devoted to the cause that she can’t see how her zeal pushes her family away; and even when she recognizes the danger, her ideology makes it impossible for her to understand why her children are so distant from her. While Phillip is loyal to Russia, it only goes so far since he’s acclimated to life as an American much easier than Elizabeth. He appreciates the advantages they have as “American,” and his love for his children and wife outweighs his determination to see their mission through to the end.

In addition to Russell and Rhys, the rest of the ensemble cast is pitch perfect too. Noah Emmerich as FBI agent, Stan Beeman, lives across the street from the Jennings, completely unaware of their true natures. Instead, he’s caught up in an affair with Nina (Annet Mahendru), an employee at the Russian embassy who he entrapped into becoming a confidential informant. Unbeknownst to him, however, her conscience gets the better of her, and she begins informing on him to her superiors in the embassy. Oh the tangled webs people weave!

The Americans is spy drama at its best and well worth the weekend you’ll spend binge watching it. Season one is available on Amazon Prime Instant Watch, though you’ll need a cable subscription to catch up with season two via on demand.

fargo fx

Fargo

Inspired by the 1996 film of the same name, Fargo is the “true crime” story of Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), a mild-mannered insurance salesman who crosses paths with a psychotic hitman (Billy Bob Thornton). Their chance encounter sets off a chain of events that leaves a bloody trail in both mens’ wakes, which local detective, Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) follows to its grisly end. Also starring Bob Odenkirk (Breaking BadMr. Show) Colin Hanks (The Good GuysRoswell), Russell Harvard (There Will Be Blood), Adam Goldberg (Saving Private RyanA Beautiful Mind), Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (Key and Peele), Fargo is a darkly humorous crime drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat for ten hours straight. I know it did for me!

Although it’s a completely separate and original story, the TV show does give several nods to the movie that fans will enjoy, but you don’t need to have seen Fargo the movie in order to enjoy the show. The first episode blasts right out of the gate, and while the season does slow down a bit for the next two or three episodes, it quickly gets back up to speed such that I couldn’t stop watching until I’d finished the season at 5am. Freeman’s portrayal of Lester as a hapless victim is so subtle that it took me until the last episode to determine whether Lester was really a victim or not. Thornton’s turn as the terrifying Lorne Malvo is exquisitely sinister, though his near superhuman ability to avoid danger did start to get on my nerves.

The highlights of the season, in my opinion, are Harvard and Goldberg’s turns as Mr. Wrench and Mr. Numbers—two fixers hot on Malvo’s trail; as well as Key and Peele’s unlucky FBI agents, Pepper and Budge. Harvard and Goldberg are wonderful as partners, one of whom is deaf, who are so close as to practically be brothers. Key and Peele do what they do best, which is add in a welcome burst of humor through their characters’ antics. Their two storylines don’t overlap, but both duos were my favorites in the show, making me wish for a separate series for each that just follows their own adventures before Fargo.

This 10-episode season is a complete story arc, so you won’t be left hanging at the end. I felt that almost everything wrapped up nicely (I just had a few nit-picky things that don’t really matter to the overall show), giving the story a very satisfying conclusion.

Any Recommendations?

These are the two shows that I’m obsessing over right now. What are you watching that you don’t think people have tuned into quite yet? I’m looking for recommendations; what should I be watching?

You can follow Amanda on Twitter at @reiko516 for more geek news.

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