DVD/Blu-ray. Twentieth Century Fox Entertainment
Starring: Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, Noah Emmerich, Richard Thomas, Margo Martindale.
It’s 1981, Ronald Reagan has just been elected president and the Cold War is colder than ever. In Washington DC, seemingly ordinary suburban couple Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) bring up their two children and get on with their busy lives.
Yet in reality, “Philip” and his “wife” “Elizabeth” are much “busier” than anyone, even their own children, realise. For they are not American at all but are in fact Soviet undercover KGB agents planted during the Khrushchev era and dedicated to the destruction of (as Superman memorably put it) “truth, justice and the American way”.
As if life wasn’t complicated enough, look who’s moving in next door! Why it’s the Beeman family headed by patriotic American Stan (Noah Emmerich), who is (of all things) an FBI agent! Stan’s s own marriage is recovering after a difficult period during a long spell undercover himself with the Klan in the Deep South. But while the Jennings know what he does (he is quite open about it), he has no idea that the Jennings are in fact the enemies in his midst, although he does sense something is a little “off” about Philip. With the two suburban families apparently growing friendlier, the stage is set for an enormous game of cat and mouse to begin.
As The Sopranos demonstrated, there’s plenty of fun to be had by mixing apparent suburban bliss with a morally ambiguous double life. Although they were formally paired together in the 1960s, the Jennings’ marriage isn’t a total sham. They love their genuinely all-American kids (who are totally unaware of their parents’ secret lives) and do at feel genuinely jealous of each other when one or each of them takes part in the occasional sexual liaisons with other people which are an inevitable part of their work. Although the air of mystery is slightly undermined by the silly wigs and disguises they are forced to wear (think Val Kilmer in The Saint), we are left under no illusions: even Philip who has nagging doubts about the cause and has contemplated defecting to the West for good, is still prepared to do horrendous things in the name of the USSR.
Emmerich (once again playing a neighbour/spy as he did in The Truman Show) is actually one of the best things about this in this and in some ways, the ups and downs of his life are more compelling than those of the Jennings who all too often vent their frustrations by simply whingeing at each other. This and a general lack of a sense of humour are probably the main flaws of the series.
But with Season 2 of ex-CIA agent Joe Weisberg’s series already screening on ITV 1, this certainly shows promise. And it’s hard to be too critical of a series which gives Richard Thomas his best role (as Stan’s boss at the FBI) since his heyday as John-Boy Walton.
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Audio Commentary on Episode “The Colonel”, Executive Order 2578: Expanding The Americans Featurette, Perfecting The Art of Espionage Featurette, Ingenuity Over Technology Featurette, Gag Reel.
Rating: 4 out of 5.