29th Nov2013

‘The Americans: The Complete First Season’ DVD Review

by Nathan Smith

Stars: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Noah Emmerich, Holly Taylor, Keidrich Sellati | Created by Joseph Weisberg


There’s this plot conceit that many shows, especially thrillers have. Call it a ticking timebomb conceit to perhaps call to mind a sneaky metaphor. It’s the idea that someone, has a secret, perhaps a dangerous one, brewing way beneath the surface. A secret worth killing for. Look at Walter White. He’s a meth chemist. A profession not exactly on the legal side of business. Or Dexter Morgan. He’s a serial killer. There’s no underlying anything there. If these men had there cats come crawling out of the bag, they’ll be up that creek we all go up in our lives, and they most certainly don’t have a damn paddle to cling to. The Americans is ticking bomb television. And the secrets that our anti-heroes cling to are most certainly a terrifyingly pandemic one. It’s terrorism. The global fear of communism has been a mass scare that has been clung to for as long as time can tell. There was the Cold War in the 60′s and then it railroaded on through to the 80′s. We all remember the Berlin Wall, and Reagan demanding that Gorbachev tear that monolith down. But, what if there was this covert cell, an group hellbent on infiltrating the United States and spreading communism throughout the land?

At first, the series is a little hard to track, there’s a lot going on in the fore, and back, ground. It’s like picking up a novel, and zipping through the pages. Sometimes you have to turn back and pick it up, but like a great book, it’s intricately plotted. Things tie in to each other strongly. Moments that don’t make sense a few moments earlier, take on a whole new meaning when viewed at this other angle. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it, actually. The idea of this couple, seemingly normal, as normal as apple pie, carrying on this insidious plot to spread a cause throughout another country is a hook that digs in so very strongly.

The performance of Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are what really sell the idea of these covert operatives. But you’re always wondering the family wish to keep up their facade? Is this an act they’ll grow tired of? Time will tell certainly. But, as the element of danger slowly seeps it’s way up in the first season, will things escalate fast and bloody going forward? Russell plays the doting wife so well, but underneath her persona, she’s a detached cold soul. It’s quite shocking, when you tie in her previous work on Felicity. The dark secret she shoulders, is a painful one and seeing her restrain herself from killing the Russian defector, is quite brilliant. The mere fact that she communicates with her commander and essays that she had fears towards her “husband” shows that she was harboring some tenuous conflict towards him. If that goes south, it’ll go messy.

However Matthew Rhys is where the spotlight really shines. I’d never seen too much of Rhys before this, but I can certainly tell you that the world will know his name long after this – a career defining role straight up and down here. Whereas Russell plays her part in the covert spy as cut and dry business at hand, Rhys is the shakier of the two. He’s clearly wanting to just give up the life and defect, it’s the easier way out. These are his children and he deeply cares for them, not that his “wife” doesn’t but they’re all a facade. Even with the threat of getting caught (very suspenseful, from the very first episode) they worry for their children. They don’t treat them as human shields. His dogged determination to his false wife and children, is sweet, even if it is a falsity. And the scene in which he confronts the sick bastard pedophile in his backyard and skewers him with a barbeque implement it endears you to him in a very strong way.

I also like Noah Emmerich and his FBI agent, Stan Beeman. This idea of an agent able to suss out people, to read them in an interesting idea. When he moved in next to our anti-heroes, a deep gulp lurches in your throat. It presents a delicious sense of danger, a real threat. Maybe there are words that Rhys says to Beeman, that would make him suspect but they are just suspicions. Never has a scene with jumper cables and a stowed away prisoners been so tightly dramatized. The final scene in the opening episode, with Beeman breaking into Rhys’ garage and seeing that his suspicions are just that, and the light in the darkened revealing Rhys hiding in the darkness with a loaded gun really perked me up. It’s so hard not to burst out of your skin at the intensity…

One thing to mention, since the show is set in the 80′s, they’ve got a great soundtrack to crib from. Hearing ‘Harden my Heart’ by Quarterflash, or in the early body disposal scene, the immortal Phil Collins classic, ‘In the Air Tonight.’ The best use of a song has to be credited to ‘Tusk’ by Fleetwood Mac during the intense chase scene at the beginning of the pilot episode while Rhys and his pal hunt down the dastardly defector. My qualm, a minor one, is that they don’t overload on 80′s imagery, don’t think one doesn’t notice Keri Russell and her form fitting Guess jeans.

The Americans has very strong premise that, if handled right could mine some seriously strong drama. If there’s no sense of getting painted into a corner, then this could go anywhere. Then, it could become a dangerous show, and that is a scary and exciting thing.

The Americans: The Complete First Season is released on DVD on January 27th 2014.


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