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The Americans: The Complete First Season
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/11/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/25/2014
I hear it all the time, so I'm sure that you've heard it too; Those who think that we are in a "Golden Age" of television. I disagree with that, but I certainly see a lot of trends in TV right now. One is that we are seeing a lot of shows with political themes, such asScandal and House of Cards. Secondly, there are a number of shows which are violent, dark, or downright bleak, like Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead. The Americans, which airs on FX, takes those ideas, throws in some 80s nostalgia and creates a mixture which has a lot of potential, but also reveals several flaws.
The Americans takes place in 1981and is set in the Washington, DC area. Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) seem like an average couple. They live with their two children, Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati), and they run a travel agency. However, the couple have a secret -- they are Russian spies. Phillip and Elizabeth each have operations where they trick or seduce U.S. government workers into spilling secrets, which they then send back to their superiors in Moscow. Their job has just gotten more dangerous, as President Reagan has given law enforcement more power to hunt spies on American soil. Things get even more tense when FBI Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) moves in across the street with his family. While Phillip and Elizabeth are attempting to keep up a normal appearance for Stan, they are realizing that their fake marriage and their mission are starting to clash. This is compounded by the fact that Moscow wants them to take more risks in order to get information on the "Star Wars" program.
I must admit that I had some concerns going into The Americans, as espionage really isn't my thing. However, the opening of the Pilot was intriguing and once the basic premise was laid out -- Russian spies in America -- I gave the show my own private litmus test; If it didn't address the fact that Phillip and Elizabeth really liked their American lifestyle and questioned their allegiance, I was turning it off. Well, the show won a reprieve by marching this idea out in the first episode. However, it also lost points in the Pilot, as Stan moving in across the street felt a little too similar to Walter White having a brother-in-law in the DEA on Breaking Bad. Still, the show offered a nice mix of action and sexuality, and there was a distinct pull from the fact that the series is set in the 80s. In fact, this becomes one of the most intriguing parts of the story, as we watch the characters deal with cumbersome technology and the fact that they can't ever get anyone on their landline phone. (How much do Cold War spies hate camera phones?)
While the show has its positive points, as the series progressed, two big problems in the story kept emerging. First of all, we learn that Phillip and Elizabeth met nearly 20 years ago and were paired to pose as a married couple in America. They lived together as a couple and had two children. But, for some reason, it wasn't until this show started that they began to question whether or not they were really in love. This seems incredibly far-fetched. They wait nearly two decades for this to come up. And this becomes an important part of the show, as their feelings for one another begin to intrude on their work. This really felt like a stretch. The other problem is that, despite the fact that Phillip and Elizabeth, as well as some other Russian spies on the show, spout their loyalty to the Motherland, they never explain why. Again, as noted above, they, Phillip especially, talk about what they like about America, but they never seem to say anything positive about Russia, but they are devoted. Obviously, we know that they were born there and we can assume that they were brainwashed, but it sill some odd, and, again, unrealistic, that they don't describe what keeps them fighting for a cause which puts them in danger on a regular basis.
I realize that those points sound like nitpicking, but they kept me from being totally engrossed in the show. It's difficult to applaud a show when you're using one hand to scratch your head in confusion. The show certainly has potential, and the good outweighs the bad, but it could still use some work. Series creator Joseph Weisberg brings an air of respectability to the show thanks to his real-life experience with the CIA, and the show contains some good "Did that really happen in history?" moments. Rhys and Russell are strong in the lead roles, and they do a great job of maintaining the level of tension in show, and they are surrounded by a good supporting cast. The show must have something going for it, given the fact that we know how the Cold War ends, and there is still some suspense here.
The Americans: The Complete First Season goes a little overboard on the crappy old cars on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The three-disc set contains all thirteen episodes from the show's first season. The image is sharp and clear, showing just a hint of grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fine and realistic. The image leans a little bit towards the dark side, but the picture is well-balanced and the action is always visible. For a television show, the depth is good and the level of detail is notable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The bulk of the audio comes from the front and rear channels. The action scenes offer some mild stereo and surround effects, and I noted that gunfire provided bass effects which did add to the moments.
The Americans: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Disc delivers several special features. Disc 1 offers six DELETED SCENES from the Pilot and "The Clock" which run about 7 minutes. Likewise, Disc 2 delivers 3 DELETED SCENES which run about 3 minutes. The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 3. We get an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Joseph Weisberg, Joel Fields, and Noah Emmerich for the episode "The Colonel". "Executive Order 2579: Exposing The Americans" (13 minutes) contains interviews with the show's creator and producers who discuss the creation of the series and which elements are taken from real life. We also hear from Russell, Rhys, and Emmerich. The look of the show and the accuracy of the "spy stuff" in the show is explored in "Perfecting the Art of Espionage" (6 minutes). "Ingenuity Over Technology" (5 minutes) looks at something which we all think while watching the show, which is how the spies did their job without modern technology. We get two more DELETED SCENES which run 2 minutes, and a 4-minute GAG REEL.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long