Leave it to a spy to know how to get under a rival's skin. In an upcoming and typically intense episode of FX's The Americans (Tuesday, 10/9c), a captured Mossad agent challenges Soviet mole and master of disguise Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys): "Your name isn't your name, is it? Is your face your face? Are your children your children?"
That last question literally hits home. Because while this brilliantly conceived spy thriller, set in suburban D.C. during the Reagan '80s, has always dealt with questions of identity and relationships (including marriages) built on lies, the focus this year is largely on the family. Early on this season, Philip and his alluring wife Elizabeth (Keri Russell) are forced to confront the danger to which they're exposing their kids, including an increasingly suspicious teenage daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor).
"How are we going to live like this?" frets Elizabeth, her warrior maternal instinct at odds with her cloak-and-dagger Russian fealty. The Americans redefines domestic espionage with its multiple layers of emotionally charged suspense.
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DRUNK WITH LOVE: Welcome to Lust Actually — or, as ABC calls it, Mixology (9:30/8:30c), a sprawling booze-fueled rom-com whose entire season takes place over one night in a posh bar populated by desperate singles whose paths continually and drunkenly crisscross. Depending on your tolerance for meet-cutes, this will either have you pining to make yours a double or, in my case, wanting to go cold turkey. The pilot introduces us to a newly dumped sad sack (Blake Lee) who hopes to score with the help of two obnoxious wingmen (Andrew Santino, odious, and Craig Frank, boring), who somehow can't stop him from setting his sights on a man-eating barracuda (Ginger Gonzaga, who immediately establishes a precedent in which the women are far more interesting and appealing than the men). The cast is largely, and understandably, unknown — although you might recognize among the staff one of last year's ill-fated psychos from The Following as the hunky bartender and the girl who played the annoying Sugar on Glee as the waitress who pines for him.
While some of the flirtatious banter in these random odd couplings can be witty and even winsome, after a few rounds (I made it through three episodes), I was ready to close out my tab.
REALITY CHECK: CBS's durable Survivor tries to reinvent itself yet again in its 28th season (8/7c), which is being dubbed "Brawn vs. Brains vs. Beauty." (Must everyone be pigeonholed? And cannot beautiful brawny people have brains, or vice versa? But we digress.) As the title suggests, the castaways are split into three teams in the two-hour opener, with three contestants forced to make a potentially game-changing decision immediately. I hope this isn't one of those twists where people are sent home before the game even starts, but what do I know? I doubt I'd qualify for any of these teams.
And while the Olympics may have stalled its momentum, and the return of The Voice this week may have once again stolen its thunder, Fox's American Idol (8/7c) revs up for its live performance and elimination (on Thursday) shows, with the Top 13 singing for America's vote — and even more important, for Harry Connick Jr.'s musical approval.
CROSSING OVER: Dick Wolf's worlds collide as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (9/8c) interrupts its case du jour, involving a comedian (Jonathan Silverman) whose tasteless jokes about rape may reflect a darker truth, with a visit by Chicago P.D.'s Erin Lindsay (Sophia Bush). In the hour of P.D. that follows, SVU's Fin and Rollins return the favor, heading to the Windy City to help the Chicago cops find a rapist/murderer.
AND KEEP IN MIND: Guest-star alert on The CW's Arrow (8/7c), as one of TV's best baddies, Robert Knepper, bedevils Starling City as "The Clock King," a master bank thief. ... Michael Chernus, best known as Piper's brother on Orange Is the New Black, arrives on ABC's Nashville (10/9c) as a successful producer with a plan to salvage Juliette's embattled career, but it involves moving her to Los Angeles. ... Moving from FX to FXX, Legit begins its second season (10/9c) with Jim Jefferies confronting his addiction to porn. Maybe this should be airing on XXX? The fledgling spinoff network is also repurposing classic episodes of Sacha Baron Cohen's Da Ali G Show with episodes never shown in the U.S., under the title Ali G: Rezurection (10:30/9:30c).
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