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The Americans: Season 1 (Blu-ray Review)

the americans whysoblu thumbIt did not take a lot to get me to begin watching The Americans, during its initial run on FX last winter.  The show revolves around stories of espionage in a period setting, features a strong cast, and has the backing of executive producer Graham Yost, who is also the showrunner for one of the best currently ongoing series on television, Justified.  I was very happy to see that The Americans lived up to what I was hoping to see from it.  It takes its unique idea and blends an exciting amount of tension, action, and even some humor to work as a series that certainly builds and builds as it goes along.  With the second season on the horizon, the Blu-ray is now available for all who missed out to have the chance to catch up.

Series: 

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The Americans is a television series on revolving around undercover Russian spies in 1980s Washington D.C.  Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as a seemingly normal, suburban couple, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, who are actually lethal KGB agents.  They have two unsuspecting children together and a new neighbor, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), who happens to be an FBI Counter-Intelligence Agent.  The first season revolves around these two working together to continue their mission as spies, while staying hidden in plain sight as a regular family. The series also takes a lot of time to expand on the lives these two have shared both together and separately, with the idea of making the audience root for these two to keep this fake, but not necessarily non-emotional, marriage alive.

This Blu-ray includes all 13 episodes from the first season:

  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”

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The Americans was created and produced by Joe Weisberg, who was a former CIA officer.  This series certainly does a fine job of making the spy-driven plot material look quite credible.  Regardless of conveniences and ideals that may be involved in the idea of “spy versus spy” scenarios in D.C. during the 80s, the show has a fine presentation of the times, the paranoia, and the politics of it all.  It is because of this aspect that the decisions to incorporate various elements from real life into this series works as well as it does.  The show is not one that tries to point out how clever it is, but it does have its moments that show the research was done to make it work.  It helps that the tone of the series is handled in a very consistent fashion.

While the series would definitely be filed under the genre category of Spy-Drama, there is a certain level of action in the series that provides a level of spark that is always exciting to see.  The show is also not above having a sense of humor, keeping the show out of being to grim and serious.  Many episodes feature Philip or Elizabeth disguising themselves, with Philip generally taking up the cause of a hapless guy that lends him to some comedic moments.  Then there is the whole familial aspect of the series, which is really the most important part.

While this is ostensibly a series about spies trying to pull one over on the American government, the film makes you support its lead characters because of the way it puts the marriage as a main focus.  This is a character-based series first and foremost and it is because we get to see a lot of details surrounding what it means to be in a “fake marriage”, despite there being obvious real emotions surrounding the circumstances that The Americans works as a show that can effectively have plots about espionage, but keep it in the background, when it comes to dealing with who Philip and Elizabeth are.  The occasional flashbacks are nice as well, along with some interesting developments involving other periphery characters, but the show respects the family drama aspect enough to put you past the fact that these are Russian spies.

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From an acting standpoint, the show is a big success due to its lead actors.  This does not just apply to Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, who are very good, but Noah Emmerich as well.  Emmerich has been a solid character actor featured in many films over the years, but he does a pretty great job as the FBI Agent next door.  While the marriage is of course the main plotline, Agent Beeman has an interesting part to play in this first season as well, which only goes to add further depth to the series.  Still, it really is a show that belongs to Russell and Rhys who excel most of all.  The presence of guests stars like Margo Martindale and Derek Luke does not hurt at all either.

The issues are fairly minor.  As with any show in its first season, The Americans has a pretty solid pilot, only needing a couple episodes to really find its footing.  Some subplots within certain episodes do not hit quite as strongly as they need to.  And I have already stated that the show certainly builds as it goes along, leaving some of the early episodes as one that make you long for a bit more energy.  Again, these are minor quibbles, as The Americans is a show I was looking forward to watching each week, during its initial run, and it is one I am eagerly anticipating, as the second season draws closer.

Video:

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution:  1080p

Aspect Ratio:  1:78:1

Clarity/Detail:  It is always cool to see these television series on Blu-ray, as you get a good look at how great a show can really look.  I originally watched The Americans on an HD broadcast, but the Blu-ray really emphasizes the look of this show, which utilizes a lot of low light and murkiness to add to the general vibe of the series.  As a result, the Blu-ray does a solid job of highlighting the visual aesthetic of the series.  It is perhaps too hazy at times though, which takes the presentation down a notch.

Depth:  As an extension of the clarity and detail seen, the depth of the video presentation is effected by the murkiness of the show’s visuals.

Black Levels:  The drab color palette actually lends itself to decent black levels, when the show is shadowed in darkness.

Color Reproduction:  Again, the drabness of the series’ general look is not always pleasing, but the Blu-ray does a good job of bringing out the soft color elements.

Flesh Tones:  Characters look clean and textured, which works as a result of the digital photography used to capture the series.

Noise/Artifacts:  Speaking of digital cameras, despite the murky tone, I can’t say the film had any real interference of this nature.

 

Audio:

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Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, Spanish 5.1 DTS

Subtitles:  English, Spanish, French

Dynamics:  The lossless DTS-HD track allows for an impressive range of sound, given the use of soundtrack choices, action when the time calls for it, and plenty of dialogue.

Low Frequency Extension:  While not heavy on action, when it arrives, the show shifts and the backing bass adds to the tension seen in this espionage series.

Surround Sound Presentation:  The score is a good way to highlight the quality of the surround aspect of this Blu-ray, as it has a unique, yet fitting feel and is incorporated well into the audio track, which is a balanced aspect for one’s sound system.

Dialogue Reproduction:  All clear, the English, the Russian, everything.

 

Extras:

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The Americans arrives in a 3-disc Blu-ray, with the majority of features being housed on the third disc.  One episode commentary is fine, but as always, I wish there was more to it.

Features Include:

  • Deleted Scenes – Each disc contains a couple deleted scenes from some of the episodes.  Not essential, but a nice look for those who want to see a bit more of the series.
  • Commentary on “The Colonel” by Joseph Weisberg, Joel Fields and Noah Emmerich – This is the kind of informative commentary that makes you wish all the episodes had a commentary.
  • Gag Reel
  • Executive Order 2579: Exposing The Americans – A look at where this show came from and how it developed.
  • Perfecting the Art of Espionage – A look at the research done to create this series.
  • Igenuity Over Technology – A look at older technology featured on the show.

Summary:

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The Americans is a series that I grew to like more and more as it went on.  I look forward to seeing where it goes in the upcoming season.  The mix of characters with false identities to the rest of the world and the placement in the Cold War is an intriguing concept, with lots of future potential.  The Blu-ray is strong enough.  The video is a bit too average and the set is light on extras, but it is still a series worth checking out.

Season 2 Begins 2/26 on FX

Order Your Copy of Season 1 Here:


Check Out My Coverage of the Season 1 Release Party

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Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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