A provocative dramatic series set in the 1980s when the Cold War was at its height, The Americans certainly makes for some riveting television. Compelling lead characters, American in every sense except they’re actually Russian spies, carry us through thirteen episodes of tension-filled domestic espionage with not only the fate of nations at stake but also the lives of many innocents unaware of whom and what they’re dealing with. It’s one of those series that grows as the episodes progress, sinking its hooks into you until you’re thoroughly on board and anxious to see what happens next.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Other
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 9 Hr. 32 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case with leaves
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 02/11/2014
Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, the Washington, D.C. suburbanites next door with two school-aged children and owners of a travel agency. Only they’re actually a pair of Russian spies paired together to pose as a married American couple (they aren’t actually married) even down to siring two children to more deeply convince in their cover identities and carrying out orders from the KGB as part of the Directorate S division. It’s 1981 when newly elected president Ronald Reagan has vowed a firm commitment to winning the Cold War at any cost and with the FBI on high alert watching for domestic spies posing as American citizens.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Only things aren’t going so well with Elizabeth and Philip. After almost twenty years in the country and living this cover identity, he’s grown fond of the life here with children he loves and freedoms he enjoys and is even considering defecting if Elizabeth would go along with him, but she’s a zealot, and her devotion to Mother Russia puts a strain on the couple’s already delicate relationship. Over the course of the season, the couple has serious ups and downs as they carry out a series of operations, some successfully, some botched and bringing them to the brink of discovery by the FBI. The FBI itself also has its victories and defeats during the course of the season. One particular agent (Noah Emmerich) actually moves in across the street from the Jennings and becomes increasingly devoted to the cause of ferreting out the spies not realizing that they’re but a stone’s throw away.
The show spends a good part of its running time showing us operatives on both sides of the conflict doing anything it takes to gain an asset (and thus the information they have to give) for their side even going so far as making things sexual. Between the spy missions which sometimes lead to confrontations, torture, and death and the sexual side of winning over an asset, the show is decidedly adult in nature. In addition to masterful work from Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (who often don a series of wigs, glasses, and other disguises as they go about their spy activities in and around Washington but who are also devoted parents to their two children in interesting domestic scenes), star turns are also delivered by Noah Emmerich whose legitimate marriage begins to crumble as his work and a lovely Russian asset begin to consume him, Margo Martindale as the Russians’ handler who though grandmotherly in look is definitely no shrinking violet, and Richard Thomas as head of the FBI agency tasked with bringing down these Russian illegals posing as Americans.
Here are the thirteen episodes contained on three Blu-ray discs in this package:
1 – Pilot
2 – The Clock
3 – Gregory
4 – In Control
5 – COMINT
6 – Trust Me
7 – Duty and Honor
8 – Mutually Assured Destruction
9 – Safe House
10 – Only You
11 – Covert War
12 – The Oath
13 – The Colonel
The series is presented in its widescreen television aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is delivered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Sharpness is usually very good but is not always consistently delivered, especially in the opening few episodes. Color has been somewhat desaturated to give a distance to the time period of the early 1980s, so flesh tones are generally pale. Black levels are certainly acceptable. When certain characters speak in Russian, the yellow subtitles used are large and very easy to read. Each episode has been divided into 12 chapters.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is a solid effort for a cable television series. There are some good pans through the soundstage when cars drive by, and explosions have the necessary heft in the LFE channel when they go off. Dialogue has been expertly recorded and has been placed in the center channel. Period music and Nathan Barr’s background score get the full surround treatment.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: creator Joe Weisberg, producer Joel Fields, and co-star Noah Emmerich provide commentary for the season finale “The Colonel.” It’s a gabby but not particularly illuminating conversation about the episode and the season.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
Deleted Scenes (7:04, 2:32, 2:26, SD): eleven scenes are spread over the three discs each in montage form.
Gag Reel (3:37, HD)
Executive Order 2579: Exposing The Americans (13:19, HD): creator Joe Weisberg discusses his four years in the CIA which gave him the idea for this series. Stars Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Noah Emmerich and producer-director Adam Arkin also talk about the impact of the series and its serious subject matter.
Perfecting the Art of Espionage (6:13, HD): Joel Fields, Joe Weisberg, Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, and Alan Arkin discuss several different spy techniques used in the 1980s including honey traps, their research for KGB methods of espionage, and the martial arts training the two stars endured to make their fight scenes realistic.
Ingenuity Over Technology (5:05, HD): the importance of the human one-on-one element in espionage during the 1980s as opposed to using our digital technology to communicate today is discussed.
The Americans is an engrossing suspense series, returning for a second season this month on FX. Making two Russian spies attempting to pose as Americans as the protagonists of a series and then maintain audience interest in their success against our own country is quite an accomplishment which the producers and writers have pulled off admirably. Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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