John Hanlon Reviews

TV Reviews

The Americans Season 4 Review

The Americans: Season 4

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery

Cast: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Holly Taylor, Noah Emmerich, Alison Wright, Kelly AuCoin

“Whatever happened to predictability, information pills ” was the opening line in the Full House theme song and it’s one that captured the essence of the show’s reliably family-friendly content. The original show — which aired from 1987-1995 — was a charming and kind-hearted sitcom with a squeaky clean image that mirrored the squeaky-clean lifestyle of Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), healing the show’s pivotal main character. It’s been more than two decades since the sitcom went off the air but thankfully for its fans, Fuller House, the new Netflix spin-off, delivers the same brand of humor and heart.

Fuller House continues the story of the Tanner family. Danny’s oldest daughter D.J. (Candace Cameron Bure), a teenager at the end of Full House’s run, is now D.J. Tanner-Fuller — a recent widow  with three boys of her own. Her situation — which clearly mirrors that of her father in the original show — serves as the main focus of the new program. Here, though, the people moving in to help her are her sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and her childhood best friend Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber), two of the original show’s stars.

The sitcom delivers on the promise of the original with nostalgia-drenched moments and an obvious sentimental affection for family. In other words, fans of the original show will be pleased.

The show’s pilot features most of the original cast back temporarily in the old Tanner home. Danny and his television co-host (Becky Katsopolis) are moving— alongside Becky’s husband Jesse (John  Stamos) —away from San Francisco. Joey Gladstone (Dave Coulier), who alongside Jesse helped raise Danny’s three daughter, is now based in Vegas. It looks like the old Tanner home might be sold but when Danny realizes D.J.’s precarious position, he allows her to move into his old house with her three sons.

Along for the ride are the free-spirited Stephanie and Kimmy, a single mother raising her daughter Ramona (Soni Bringas).

As the show moves forward, the plots surround the adventures of D.J., Stephanie and Kimmy. The plots are oftentimes predictable but they are bursting with the heart and values that were so prominent in the original. Interestingly enough, the new show also has good fun peppering some of the episodes with references to today’s technology.

“I’ll tag you on Instagram but first I’ll have to unblock you,” Stephanie tells Kimmy during a night out.

Unlike the original program, the show also has a self-awareness that will play well with the millennials who grew up watching Full House. In the first episode and later in the program, there are sarcastic references to the fact that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen— who played Michelle Tanner on  Full House — declined to appear in this reboot. There’s also a great one-liner in an early episode from Stephanie about the fact that Michelle was played by two actresses (“I changed so many diapers I felt like there were two of them,” Stephanie says).

The original show was never cutting-edge. It didn’t want to be. It was an idealistic and uplifting sitcom about a family growing up together and so too is this reboot/spin-off series. It helps that the returning actors seem genuinely happy to be back in familiar territory.  Cameron Bure and Sweetin are especially appealing as the two sisters and even in the midst of a laugh-filled show, Sweetin shows great vulnerability here and shows her emotional range in a dramatic early episode.

It also helps that D.J.’s two older children (her youngest son is a still a baby so he gets very limited screen time) are both charming and likeable here. Michael Campion and Elias Harger are worthy additions to the Full House family as Jackson and Max Fuller.

The show may be predictable but it’s also a lot of fun. I was a fan of Full House in the 80s and 90s and I’m happy to see that Fuller House offers a nice tribute to the original show while also finding its own unique voice.
After three seasons of close calls, search
it looks like the end is nigh for Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), health
the couple who stand at the center of the engrossing television drama The Americans (now in its fourth season).

Over the course of the show’s lifespan (the best of which was the superb second season), advice
the undercover Soviet spy couple have come dangerously closer and closer to being discovered. During the pilot, that danger presented itself across the street when the Jennings realized their neighbor was an FBI agent but at the end of the third season, the danger appeared in their home itself as their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) revealed her parents’ identities to her religious mentor, Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin). The new season, which is now airing on FX, picks up shortly after that as Elizabeth and Philip are starting to see the beginning of the end.

In addition to the trouble with Pastor Tim, FBI receptionist Martha Hanson (Alison Wright) — a naïve woman who fell in love with Philip, who used a fake identification to manipulate her and married her in a fake ceremony — also now realizes the web of lies she’s involved in. In the fourth season premiere, she realizes that “her husband” has killed for her and framed one of her colleagues for the treason she was responsible for.

One of the show’s greatest strengths is its methodical approach to the material. This isn’t a show that revolves around gun-play or tense action sequences. Instead the program is slow and steady, building up relationships and manipulations slowly but surely. The intensity here is earned as the show’s producers diligently set their stories to unfurl in a meticulous and specific way.

Creator Joseph Weisberg has truly crafted a strong and complex tale here and it’s one that’s built on subtlety and substance rather than effects and explosions.

In the two episodes that have aired, the show has really set the stage for major changes in the life of the Jennings. “We’re in trouble,” Elizabeth tells her husband at the end of the second episode. It’s that boiling sense of danger that has really set this season up as a major one for the series. With Paige really taking a more prominent role (as her confession to the minister takes center stage), the show is expertly revealing how it’s not the dangers from outside the Jennings home that could take them down. It’s the danger from within.

Admittedly, the fourth season does continue a few story-lines that don’t seem to fit anymore. Nina Krilova (Annet Mahendru), a Russian diplomat who betrayed her country to the FBI, is still a prominent figure on the show despite her being sent overseas by the Russians two seasons ago. Her story-line involving her manipulations of a scientist the Russians are attempting to exploit doesn’t seem to work with the rest of the show.

Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), the FBI agent who lives across from the Jennings and is on a quest to catch Soviet spies in the US, had an affair with Nina several seasons ago. He still has feelings for her but she herself doesn’t feel necessary to the show anymore.

One of the best additions to the new season though is Dylan Baker as William, an informant who offers the Jennings a possible biological weapon wrapped in a small package. Baker, who was so believable as a sociopath on CBS’s The Good Wife, seems a perfect fit for this show. He’s never someone who seems completely trustworthy and his recklessness serves as a perfect reminder that even your greatest allies could betray you.

It’s unclear how many more seasons this program will go (there’s talk of one or two more seasons after this) but instead of retreating into a shadow of its former self, this drama keeps raising the stakes. The Jennings may be able to overcome their latest obstacles but with each new revelation, each new betrayal and each new twist, their world (and the power they control in it) is becoming smaller and smaller.

It’s a fascinating development to watch and with the tremendously-talented Russell and Rhys at the center of the mischief, the show is firing on all cylinders.

Review by: John Hanlon