Runtime: 620 Mins
What To Expect: Old school spycraft, mediocre disc treatment
You’d be surprised where moles are and have been. Worse than the double agent, worse than the triple agent, is the one not seen or recognised. One so deeply embedded most of his own people don’t even know about him. When someone is put in the field and lives an entirely seperate life. Months and even years can pass without contact or orders from their handlers. Entire winters and summers pass untill they are one day activated for one task or another, such as a sole hour of surveillance. And then it’s back undercover. This is real espionage, and it happened all the time in the Cold War. It even happens today. In fact, the 2010 case of Russian spies being snared by the FBI probably inspired this series (and ‘The Double’, an underrated spy movie starring Richard Gere). The Russians are back, so they say, and that can only mean one thing – that good espionage fiction is back too.
This series spans 13 episodes. It’s about two KGB agents who have married and raised two kids in America. They’ve been embedded for so long that they have adopted, superficially at least, the American way of life. You could even call them perpetual method actors. But they are up to no good, they are the Reds next door. After a decade of tedious shit about tracking and wetworking Islamic nutjobs, this is refreshing stuff. The game is bigger, the scope has widened and the consequences more serious. The year is 1981 and we are entering the ‘Star Wars’ (Reagan variant!) era, and the Commies are getting anxious. Nuclear primacy was the name of the game, and the Soviets were especially paranoid particularly in 1980-85. The two leads, who aren’t quite antagonists, are on a hunt for missile defence technology and its progression. Cue a lot of bugs, assassinations and clandestine meetings. All of it allowed to mature and happen at its own pace, which is where 11 hours of programming will benefit. There are no break-neck Bourne-isms (mostly), the hunt is long, slow and interesting. To racket up the tension and add a fun dynamic, from the very start an unsuspecting Federal Agent moves in beside the two miscreants as a new neighbour.
There is an edge this has over recent spy movies and shows, aside from its more engaging subject matter. The fact that is is set in the 80’s means there is virtually no gadget-porn, computer thrills or satellite gimmickry. This is old school spy craft. Slow burning paranoia, long-curved operations brought down the hard way. A wig and a pair or (large, square, 80’s-style) glasses. They’ve also cast it pretty good, Rhys and Russell are very easy to watch. You buy them as professional and fanatics. In fact, as the hours pass by you begin to empathise with them. Only for the sake of entertainment, of course. Complaints? Well, more nostalgia was expected. Like Pain & Gain, a movie set in the 90’s that doesn’t look very 90’s at all, ‘The Americans’ often looks too modern too. Only now and again does it reveal it’s era setting.
The disc release is pretty mediocre. No fancy box packaging here, just the standard Blu Ray jewel case with three discs rammed in. For a series that runs for over 590 minutes, there’s also pretty slim pickings on the side of extras too. A full TV series, it only gets 12 minutes of deleted scenes. Two YouTube-sized features and a very brief gag reel fill in the other extras. The commentary is also frugal, only one episode gets the treatment. I also wouldn’t write home about the picture quality. If you’re someone who has been holding out for beefy 1080p over broadcast 1080i, it looks like you’ll be in for a disappointment. It’s not a bad encode, but if it leaves an impression at all, it’s slightly negative.
Great TV series and a welcome relief from overly technological 21st century espionage, but a weak disc release and all too brief.
SEASON ONE: 8/10
DISC RELEASE: 6/10
Click Here To Buy The Americans On Amazon – Season 1 [Blu-ray]