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Season 5 of 'The Americans' gets off to a strong and timely start

If you took my advice last July in a "You Should Be Watching" piece about "The Americans," you've been eagerly looking forward to tonight's fifth season premiere of the acclaimed FX series about Russian spies who appear to be living the American Dream with their two children in suburban Washington, D.C., in the 1980s.

With the widely held belief that Russia interfered with the American presidential election to help elect Donald Trump and all the speculation about the Trump Administration's ties to Russia, the arrival of "The Americans" certainly can't look more timely even if it is set more than 30 years ago.

In a January press conference in Pasadena, Calif., creator Joe Weisberg wouldn't say whether his job is easier or harder now that a show set in the 1980s during the Cold War seems to have become a contemporary program.

“I don’t know if it’s exactly easier or harder,” said Weisberg. “There’s something in a twisted way that’s kind of fun about seeing all this stuff in the headlines that we’re trafficking in all the time.

“In a very twisted way. But, on the other hand, as you all recall from when we sat here many years ago, the initial idea of the show was really to say, ‘Hey, look. These people who we think of as enemies are really just like us,’ and that was at a more peaceful time in U.S./Russian relations, and to see things have spiraled so out of control, frankly, just doesn’t feel so good.”

Two months later, that Weisberg quote seems even more powerful, making tonight's premiere at 10 p.m. on FX even more must-see TV for those of us who love the program.

The series, which has won a Peabody Award and has been nominated for an Emmy, will have a final season in 2018 of 10 episodes.

I am happy to report that the first three episodes of season five available for review set up a strong season and don't disappoint.

Viewers will have to have done their homework to understand what is going on and even then it may take watching the first three episodes to fully comprehend as the married Russian spies, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), try to uncover who is behind a plot to destroy grain being sent to their homeland.

Once again, the Jennings wear disguises and are on a mission that most likely will ruin the lives of vulnerable people – this time Russian immigrants – while befriending them in an attempt to uncover secrets. And once again, they appear to be a little guilty about doing it.

But not that guilty. I'd say about as guilty as many American viewers are for rooting for the Jennings.

The key questions in season five of a series that began in 2013 are:

Will many American TV viewers still have the surprisingly uncomfortable feeling of rooting for Russian spies as they masquerade as U.S. citizens and try to steal top secrets of the Reagan administration? Or will they finally turn against the Jennings as their murder count climbs?

Will Philip's questioning of his missions and longing to live a more normal life finally overcome him?

Will the Jennings' teenage daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), let slip what her parents are doing now that they told her and she is in a romance with the son of the FBI agent who is a neighbor?

Will the decorated FBI agent, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), finally realize the spies he is looking for are right under his nose?

Stan is at the center of another story line involving a principled Russian spy who is being blackmailed by the FBI against Stan's wishes.

Once again, American viewers may be rooting for the Russian spy rather than their government.

If there are valid criticisms of "The Americans" besides Stan's clueless behavior and Russell's surprising physical strength, it is that the episodes can be more than a little humorless and there can be long stretches of the hour episodes that are without dialogue.

However, those stretches often build tension, as they do in tonight's premiere.

As for humor, there is a big dry laugh at the end of the violent third episode.

And with all that is going on in the real world in the first few months of the Trump administration, modern-day Americans certainly can use more laughs.

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