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MOVIE INFO

Created By:
Joseph Weisberg
Cast:
Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, Richard Thomas
Writing Credits:
Various

Tagline:
All's fair in love and cold war.

Synopsis:
Secrets can be deadly in this suspenseful thriller about undercover Russian spies in 1980s Washington, D.C. Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) seem to be a typical suburban couple, but they're actually lethal KGB agents plotting to bring down America. As the Cold War escalates, Philip and Elizabeth must take extreme measures to continue their mission and keep their true identities hidden. But when an FBI agent moves in across the street, they become ensnared in a pulse-pounding game of cat and mouse.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Castillian Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Castillian
Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Portuguese
Swedish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Castillian
Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Portuguese
Swedish

Runtime: 572 min.
Price: $59.99
Release Date: 2/11/14

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary for One Episode
• Deleted Scenes
• Gag Reel
• “Executive Order 2579: Exposing The Americans” Featurette
• “Perfecting the Art of Espionage” Featurette
• “Ingenuity Over Technology” Featurette
• Previews


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


The Americans: The Complete First Season [Blu-Ray] (2013)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 27, 2014)

A breakout series from the 2012-13 season, The Americans takes us back to the Washington, DC area circa the early 1980s. We meet Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell), a seemingly ordinary suburban couple with two kids (Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati).

However, it turns out the Philip and Elizabeth are actually undercover KGB agents in the US to undermine society. The Blu-ray covers all 13 of Season One’s episodes. The plot synopses come from the discs’ menus.

Pilot: “The arranged marriage of Philip and Elizabeth grows more passionate and genuine by the day, but is constantly tested by the escalation of the Cold War. Tensions heighten upon the arrival of a new neighbor, FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich).”

A pilot episode exists largely to set up a series’ characters and situations, which this one does in a deft manner. It introduces us to the main parties in a concise way and shows us probable themes well, especially the concepts of family/love vs. duty. While not the most scintillating story, “Pilot” doesn’t need to dazzle; it brings us into the series well and that’s good enough.

The Clock: “Philip and Elizabeth are given an urgent task to plant a bug in Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger’s office. Meanwhile, Stan closes in on a member of the Soviet Rezidentura in an effort to uncover the identities of Deep Cover Directorate’s operatives.”

Two programs into the series and it’s unclear if S1 will come with an overarching plot – ie, a mission that will cover much of the year – or if it’ll be episodic in nature, with issues related to personal relationships and the threat of Beeman as the only consistent threads. Whichever way the rest of the year goes, “Clock” presents a fair amount of intrigue. It develops those burgeoning threads well enough and delivers some good drama, so it keeps us involved.

Gregory: “Philip and Elizabeth discover that their murdered colleague Robert has a wife (Audrey Esparza) they never knew about. Stan’s investigation into Robert’s death puts him hot on their trail.”

In terms of development, “Gregory” moves things along most prominently via the love triangle formed by the episode’s title character (Derek Luke). I can’t say he’s the most fascinating personality so far, but he does add complications to the already fraught Philip/Elizabeth relationship. Throw in some additional issues in the usual spy plot and the show works pretty well.

In Control: “When an assassin attempts to kill President Reagan, Philip and Elizabeth scramble to handle the fallout with in the KGB. Meanwhile, Stan pressures his source within the Rezidentura to find out if the KGB was responsible for the attempted assassination.”

If you wonder precisely what part of 1981 The Americans covers, “Control” gives us the answer, as its depiction of the attempted assassination of President Reagan places it in late March. This is a good decision, as a) it adds real-life tension to the depicted situations, and b) it ensures that the series has years of active Cold War to exploit.

Looking solely at “In Control”, it uses the events for a satisfying show. It moves along the usual personal narratives reasonably well but works best when it deals with the implications of the Reagan shooting. The show mixes fact and fiction well.

Comint: “Professionally, Philip and Elizabeth are tasked with infiltrating the FBI’s new communications encryption system, while personally they are forced to grapple with one of the darker aspects of life as a spy.”

While it has its moments, “Comint” seems a little lackluster. Some of the personal elements just don’t feel all that involving, and other aspects can’t elevate the episode. This doesn’t make it a bad show, but it’s not as good as I’d like.

Trust Me: “A mole hunt within the KGB causes suspicion amongst allies and shatters trust within the Jennings’ marriage. Meanwhile, Stan’s plan to keep his mole safe puts her at even greater risk of discovery.”

The episode creates some potential intrigue when we wonder if the US authorities have found out about Philip and Elizabeth, but this doesn’t work as well as desired because of the nature of episodic TV. If the feds root out our leads, there’s no more series, so we know their interrogation won’t go anywhere too substantial. Still, “Trust Me” comes with other good dramatic elements as a result, so it’s a positive program.

Duty and Honor: “Philip and Elizabeth’s troubled marriage is further tested when a mission to discredit a Polish pro-democracy leader reunites Philip with his old flame.”

“Honor” focuses on personal affairs more than I’d like. Americans threatens to lose me when it goes into flashback mode to show us the leads back in the USSR; while I understand the need for this material in theory, it doesn’t tend to interest me much. “Honor” veers too far into soap opera territory at times.

Mutually Assured Destruction: “Philip and Elizabeth must stop an assassin from taking out key US scientists, while Stan and the FBI hunt the same man.”

While “Destruction” includes occasional moments of intrigue and excitement, those semi-soap opera elements tend to dominate again. At times it feels like the episode is constructed around these dull personal moments and the plot elements get grafted on top. Perhaps all of this will pay off eventually, but right now it feels like the series is spinning its wheels.

Safe House: “Philip and Elizabeth are put to the test when a routine mission goes horribly wrong. Stan and the FBI are pushed to their limit when one of their own goes missing.”

“House” features the death of a regular character, an element that gives the episode more charge. However, it winds up with too much focus on the usual relationship mopery. I get that the series wants to be about more than just spy shenanigans, but I still think it leans too far away from intrigue and too far toward dull interpersonal components.

Only You: “Stan pursues a lead that puts him on the trail to one of Gregory’s crew members, closing the gap between him and Elizabeth and reigniting some of the deepest conflicts between her and Philip.”

For once, the series manages to combine the spy drama with the relationship material in a fairly satisfying manner. It still veers too far toward the latter for my liking, but as we follow the repercussions of the prior episode’s events, the situation intensifies in a pretty good way. This gives me hope the rest of the season will continue to percolate.

Covert War: “Events in Moscow strike a personal chord for Elizabeth, leading her to take on a dangerous mission she can’t complete without Philip’s help and placing the couple on a collision course with both Grannie and the FBI.”

After an episode that intensified the action, “War” feels like it steps back a bit. It emphasizes the personal issues more and doesn’t feel like a lot of progress toward a climax, though it has its moments.

The Oath: “One of Elizabeth’s agents has key intel for sale, but she and Philip find themselves taking increasingly greater risks for what could well be a set-up. Meanwhile, Stan’s pursuit of Directorate S suddenly begins to yield unexpected results.”

With one episode left in S1, “Oath” needs to set up the finale, and it does so fairly well. It manages to integrate the personal elements with the spy drama in a reasonably satisfying manner. This becomes a stronger than usual show that makes me look forward to the season’s climax.

The Colonel: “Philip and Elizabeth are ordered to go through with a meeting that could potentially be a set-up. Stan’s investigation puts him and the FBI even closer to Philip and Elizabeth.”

A season-closing episode like this encounters a tough task, as it needs to wrap up events but not provide a concrete finish. After all, the series wants to come back for another year, so it can’t do anything too major.

Perhaps that factor makes “Colonel” anti-climactic feel somewhat inevitable, but I think the series’ producers could’ve found a better way to finish the year. We do get some excitement and intrigue, but the show doesn’t feel like it gives us the strong season-ender we’d like.

Maybe that’s appropriate, as like much of Season One, “Colonel” seems intermittently compelling but not consistently so. I like the premise of the series and think the notion of expanding a spy drama past simple action/adventure has merit, but as depicted in S1, the results favor melodrama too much of the time. It's like they tended to forget the espionage and action on a regular basis, especially as the year progressed. The Americans remains a decent to good series but I don’t think S1 lives up to its potential.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B/ Bonus C-

The Americans appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. From start to finish, the episodes looked good.

No significant issues with sharpness developed. Some wider elements seemed a bit soft, but those instances didn’t dominate, so the shows usually provided crisp, distinctive visuals. I saw no jaggies or moiré effects, and edge haloes remained absent. Print flaws were a non-factor as well.

In terms of palette, the series opted for a fairly subdued feel, with an amber or teal sense much of the time. Within those choices, the hues looked well-developed. Blacks came across as dense and tight, and low-light shots demonstrated nice clarity. All in all, I thought the series delivered nice visuals.

Expect fairly positive audio from the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of The Americans. The forward dominated, as the shows featured solid stereo music and a good sense of environment. Elements meshed smoothly and moved across the spectrum well.

In addition, the surrounds added some pizzazz. The back speakers used music well, and effects also created a fine sense of place. The surrounds didn’t have a ton to do throughout the series, but the mix used them in a satisfying manner.

As for the quality of the audio, it seemed good. Speech always came across as natural and concise, with no edginess or other issues. Music was bright and clean, while effects showed nice reproduction. Those elements came across as lively and dynamic, and low-end response appeared deep and firm. The episodes consistently boasted positive audio.

Most of the set’s extras appear on Disc Three, but a mix of Deleted Scenes span all three platters. These offer a total running time of 12 minutes, two seconds. We find clips for “Pilot” (four segments), “The Clock” (two), “Comint” (two), “Mutually Assured Destruction” (one), and “Covert War” (two).

The added sequences tend toward minor additions to the episodes. Stan benefits the most from them, as we see more of him across many of the clips. None of them add anything memorable, though.

On Disc Three, we get an audio commentary from writer/series creator Joseph Weisberg, writer Joel Fields and actor Noah Emmerich. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story/character areas, cast and performances, sets and locations, and a few other topics.

If we could only get a single commentary from Season One, I would’ve preferred a chat about the “Pilot”, as it would’ve made sense to give us info about the series’ origins and development. A conversation about the S1 finale works best if it ties up the year and points toward S2.

Which this one fails to do. The commentary throws out a smattering of decent notes, but it tends toward a lot of happy talk and praise. I can’t call this a bad track, but it leaves us without a lot of concrete information.

A Gag Reel lasts three minutes, 37 seconds. This shows a pretty standard allotment of goofs and giggles. If you like that, have a blast!

Three featurettes follow. Executive Order 2579: Exposing The Americans runs 13 minutes, 19 seconds and includes notes from Weisberg, Fields, Emmerich, producer Adam Arkin, and actors Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell. The program looks at the historical influences for the series and its development, how Weisberg’s prior experiences influences the show, story/character areas, realism and authenticity, and reflections about the era depicted in the series. “Exposing” comes with some decent thoughts, though it lacks great substance. Still, it offers a mix of interesting insights related to The Americans.

Perfecting the Art of Espionage lasts six minutes, 13 seconds and features Weisberg, Fields, Rhys, Russell, Emmerich, and Arkin. The featurette examines research and attempts to accurately depict the spy side of the series. “Art” echoes “Exposing” and becomes another good but not great program.

Finally, the five-minute, five-second Ingenuity Over Technology offers info from Weisberg, Rhys, Fields, Russell, Emmerich, and Arkin. The piece looks at the early 1980s technology used in the series. “Ingenuity” continues the trend from its predecessors, which means we learn a little about the show but not a lot.

Disc One opens with ads for Homeland Season 2, American Horror Story: Asylum, Sons of Anarchy S5 and The Bridge.

Season One of The Americans gives us often good but erratic entertainment. While I like the series’ attempts to combine an action/spy piece with a character drama, it favors the latter too much of the time and loses sight of the appropriate balance. The Blu-ray delivers solid picture and audio but lacks substantial bonus materials. Despite some ups and downs, I think The Americans is a mostly interesting series and I look forward to where it goes in Season Two.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 3
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main