When I watched the debut episode of FX’s The Americans last year, it didn’t quite grab me. I though the series was built on an interesting premise, but something about the pilot never really clicked with me, so I didn’t go any further than that first episode. But after seeing the series listed on countless “Best Of” lists at the end of the year, I began to feel like I had missed out on something, and with the Season Two premiere on the horizon, I decided to give the series another shot.
I couldn’t tell you what changed, but this time I was fully invested by the end of the opening sequence, where Russian sleeper agents Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) and his wife, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) botch a routine snatch-and-grab job. The end result finds a fellow agent dead and the target trussed up in the trunk of their car – which may have been spotted at the scene of the kidnapping. Adding further complication is the arrival of their new neighbor, Stan Beeman (Noeh Emmerich), who just so happens to be a counterintelligence agent with the FBI.
Aside from the top-notch headlining cast, the world of The Americans is populated with an impressive selection of supporting talent. Richard Thomas barks orders as Beeman’s hot-headed superior, Derek Luke plays a pivotal role as one of Elizabeth’s assets, and Margo Martindale shows up as Elizabeth and Philip’s no-nonsense handler Claudia, a seasoned KGB spy that isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty when the situation calls for it.
The Americans does an excellent job of exploring both sides of the Cold War, being careful never to paint either side of the conflict as the clear villain. There’s plenty of moral ambiguity in the espionage business, and viewers may find themselves questioning their own allegiances as the events of the first season unfold. But as riveting as the frequent identity changes and covert missions may be, even more fascinating is the exploration of the personal relationship between Philip and Elizabeth, as they try to balance the trials and tribulations of married life with the secrets they’re forced to keep, both from their children and from each other.
While The Americans may deliver a gripping, heart-pounding experience in every episode, the Blu-ray collection is surprisingly sparse when it comes to special features. There are a handful of deleted and alternate scenes on each disc (about 11 minutes total), a gag reel, and three short featurettes exploring the creation of the series and the research that went into accurately recreating the time period. The shining jewel, however, is the commentary track on the season finale, which features series creator (and former CIA agent) Joseph Weisberg alongside Noah Emmerich and writer/producer Joel Fields. It’s entertaining and insightful, and I would have been happy to hear these three chat about the rest of the series, as well.
Despite the shortcomings in the special features department, The Americans still comes highly recommended. Whether you missed out on the series when it aired last year, or you’re looking to revisit Philip and Elizabeth in preparation for the new season, it’s well worth the addition to your collection. Click below to purchase.