The Americans (2013 TV series)
|Created by||Joe Weisberg|
|Opening theme||"The Americans Theme" by Nathan Barr|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||52 (list of episodes)|
70 minutes (pilot)
DreamWorks Television (2013)
Amblin Television (2014-present)
Fox Television Studios (2013–14)
Fox 21 Television Studios (2015–present)
FX Productions (2013–15)
DTS-HD Master Audio|
Dolby Digital 5.1
|Original release||January 30, 2013 – present|
The Americans is an American television period drama series created and produced by former CIA officer Joe Weisberg. The series premiered in the United States on January 30, 2013 on the cable network FX.
Set in the early 1980s during the Cold War, The Americans is the story of Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), two Soviet KGB officers posing as an American married couple living in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., with their children (Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati) and their neighbor, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), an FBI agent working in counterintelligence.
The fourth season premiered on March 16, 2016. On May 25, 2016, FX set an end-date for the series by renewing it for a fifth and sixth season. The 13-episode fifth season will air in 2017, followed by a 10-episode sixth and final season in 2018.
The Americans was created by Joe Weisberg, a former CIA officer. Despite its spy setting, Weisberg aimed to tell the story of a marriage. The series focuses on the personal and professional lives of the Jenningses, sometimes incorporating real-life events into the narrative. The show's creator has described the series as being ultimately about a marriage: "The Americans is at its core a marriage story. International relations is just an allegory for the human relations. Sometimes, when you're struggling in your marriage or with your kid, it feels like life or death. For Philip and Elizabeth, it often is." Executive producer Joel Fields described the series as working different levels of reality: the fictional world of the marriage between Philip and Elizabeth, and the real world involving the characters' experiences during the Cold War.
Working at the CIA, which Weisberg later described as a mistake, has helped him develop several storylines in the series, basing some plot lines on real-life stories, and integrating several things he learned in his training, such as dead drops and communication protocols.
Weisberg was fascinated by stories he had heard from agents who served abroad as spies, while raising their families. He was interested in bringing that concept to television, with the idea of a family of spies, rather than just one person.
Weisberg says the CIA inadvertently gave him the idea for a series about spies, explaining, "While I was taking the polygraph exam to get in, they asked the question, 'Are you joining the CIA in order to gain experience about the intelligence community so that you can write about it later'—which had never occurred to me. I was totally joining the CIA because I wanted to be a spy. But the second they asked that question ... then I thought, 'Now I'm going to fail the test.'"
Weisberg was partially influenced by the events of the Illegals Program to write a pilot script for the series. His research material included notes on the KGB's Cold War left by Vasili Mitrokhin and conversations with some of his former colleagues at the CIA. He stated that, unlike the circumstances involving the Illegals Program (which culminated in 2010), he had opted to set the story in the early 1980s because "a modern day [setting] didn't seem like a good idea", adding, "People were both shocked and simultaneously shrugged at the  scandal because it didn't seem like we were really enemies with Russia anymore. An obvious way to remedy that for television was to stick it back in the Cold War. At first, the '70s appealed to me just because I loved the hair and the music. But can you think of a better time than the '80s with Ronald Reagan yelling about the evil empire?"
After reading Weisberg's novel, An Ordinary Spy, executive producer Graham Yost discovered that Weisberg had also written a pilot for a possible spy series. Yost read the pilot and discovered that it was "annoyingly good", which led to the beginning of motions to develop the show.
Weisberg stated that he had no idea about who would star in the series before casting began. FX president John Landgraf had the idea to cast Keri Russell in the series. Leslie Feldman, the head of casting at DreamWorks, saw Matthew Rhys in a play and suggested him to Weisberg. Russell and Rhys had met briefly at a party years before, but were not fully introduced. They both were attracted to the series because of its focus on the relationship between their characters. Said Rhys, "You have two people who have led the most incredibly strange life together with incredibly high stakes, in this scene of domesticity that is an absolute lie, and at the end of the pilot they're finding each other for the very first time."
Russell described the pilot script as "interesting", continuing, "It was so far from a procedural. And [originally,] I didn't know that I wanted to do it. I always say no to everything. I never want to do anything. [Laughs.] But I just couldn't stop thinking about it. I read it ... and I kept trying to figure it out, because it's so not clear. It's still not clear to me. But there's so many different levels to it."
Rhys said of his character, "He's a sort of gift of a part in that he's very sort of layered and multi-faceted. And when you meet him, he's at this great turning point in his life where everything's changing for him. You just get to do everything. You get to do the kung fu, and you get to do the emotional scenes, you get to do the disguises. It's the full package for an actor. It's a dream."
Noah Emmerich was initially hesitant about taking a role in the series. He explained: "The truth is, from the very beginning, I thought, 'I don't want to do a TV show where I carry a gun or a badge. I'm done with guns and badges. I just don't want to do that anymore.' When I first read it I thought, 'Yeah, it's really interesting and really good, but I don't want to be an FBI guy.'" His friend, Gavin O'Connor, who directed the pilot episode, convinced him to take a closer look at the role. Emmerich stated that he responded to the aspect of marriage and family. "It was really interesting, and it was really intelligent and unusual, and it stood out from the pack."
After recurring in the first season, Susan Misner, Annet Mahendru, and Alison Wright, who play Sandra Beeman, Nina, and Martha Hanson, respectively, were promoted to series regulars beginning with season two. After recurring in the first two seasons, Lev Gorn, who plays Arkady Ivanovich, was promoted to series regular for season three.
Filming and locations
The series films in New York City at Eastern Effects Studios in Brooklyn. Other shooting locations include: Mamaroneck, Coney Island Avenue, Kew Gardens, Morningside Heights, and Farmingdale. Shooting of the pilot episode began in May 2012 and lasted until mid-June. Filming began for the rest of the first season in November 2012 in the New York City area. The production used location shots to simulate a dramatic setting of Washington, D.C. Early filming was delayed by flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy. Filming for the second season commenced in October 2013.
Cast and characters
The surnames of most of the Russian characters are not revealed. In scenes taking place inside the Soviet embassy, the characters address each other in a familiar but respectful manner, using given name and patronymic, without mentioning surnames. "Ivanovich" means "son of Ivan" and "Sergeevna" indicates "daughter of Sergei".
- Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings (Nadezhda), a KGB officer.
- Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings (Mischa), a KGB officer.
- Holly Taylor as Paige Jennings, Elizabeth and Philip's daughter.
- Keidrich Sellati as Henry Jennings, Elizabeth and Philip's son.
- Noah Emmerich as Stan Beeman, an FBI agent.
- Maximiliano Hernández as Chris Amador (season 1), Stan's FBI partner.
- Susan Misner as Sandra Beeman (recurring seasons 1 and 4, main seasons 2–3), Stan's ex-wife.
- Annet Mahendru as Nina Sergeevna Krilova (recurring season 1, main season 2–4), a clerical worker turned KGB agent at the Soviet Embassy, and Stan's former informant and lover.
- Richard Thomas as Special Agent Frank Gaad (recurring seasons 1–2, main season 3–4), an FBI supervisor and Stan's boss.
- Alison Wright as Martha Hanson (recurring season 1, main season 2–4), Agent Gaad's secretary and Philip's informant.
- Lev Gorn as Arkady Ivanovich Zotov (recurring seasons 1–2, main season 3–present), the KGB's Rezident at the Soviet embassy.
- Costa Ronin as Oleg Igorevich Burov (recurring season 2, main season 3–present), the Soviet embassy's new Science and Technology officer, actually a privileged son of a government minister who got the appointment through his father so he could enjoy the comforts of the United States.
- Dylan Baker as William Crandall (season 4), a biochemical warfare scientist.
- Brandon J. Dirden as Dennis Aderholt (recurring season 3, main season 4), an FBI agent.
- Margo Martindale as Claudia, the Jennings' second KGB handler.
- Daniel Flaherty as Matthew Beeman, Stan's son with Sandra.
- Peter Von Berg as Vasili Nikolaevich, a former KGB Rezident.
- Wrenn Schmidt as Kate (season 2), the Jennings' third KGB handler.
- Lee Tergesen as Andrew Larrick (season 2), a United States Navy SEAL blackmailed into working for the KGB.
- Michael Aronov as Anton Baklanov (season 2–present), an émigré Russian-Jewish scientist working on secret stealth technology.
- Kelly AuCoin as Pastor Tim (season 2–present), the head of the church which Paige Jennings attends.
- Vera Cherny as Tatiana Evgenyevna (season 3–present), a KGB officer at the Rezidentura.
- Frank Langella as Gabriel (season 3–present), the Jennings' first and current KGB handler.
- Julia Garner as Kimberly Breland (seasons 3–4), the daughter of the head of the CIA's Afghan group.
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||13||January 30, 2013||May 1, 2013|
|2||13||February 26, 2014||May 21, 2014|
|3||13||January 28, 2015||April 22, 2015|
|4||13||March 16, 2016||June 8, 2016|
The general plot of The Americans follows two KGB Directorate S agents, Nadezhda and Mischa, as they pose as an American couple, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, and attempt to carry out covert intelligence operations shortly after Ronald Reagan's election to President, while keeping their true identity safe from outsiders and their children.
Season 1 follows Stan Beeman turning Nina Krilova into an American spy in the Rezidentura. After Beeman kills Vlad, a young and inexperienced KGB officer, in retaliation for his partner's murder, Nina becomes a triple agent, confessing to the Rezident. The season ends after Nina blows an operation to capture Elizabeth picking up a dead drop under surveillance, but Elizabeth is shot and badly wounded.
Season 2 follows the Jennings attempting to capture technology and data relating to the United States efforts to develop stealth aircraft. At the same time, Elizabeth and Philip attempt to solve the murders of two other Directorate S operatives, Leanne and Emmet. Believing that Captain Larrick, a Navy SEAL, is responsible, they agree to free him from blackmail after he gets them access to a training camp for Nicaraguan Contras. At the end of the season, it is revealed that Jared, Leanne and Emmet's son, murdered them after they discovered he'd been recruited by the KGB. They are then approached by Claudia, their handler, who informs them that their daughter Paige has been selected as the next recruit, under a program to develop "Second Generation Illegals" who can pass background checks and presumably be hired by the FBI and the CIA.
Season 3 features the Jennings coping with the stress of preparing themselves to reveal their true nature to Paige. To make her more comfortable with the notion, Elizabeth becomes more involved with Paige's church activities, though she later confesses that she was doing so as a coping mechanism after learning her mother was dying. The main storylines for the season include the arrival of a Soviet defector whom Stan is assigned to monitor (and fears may be a double agent), the war in Afghanistan (which takes a toll on both Philip, who has a son serving in the army in Afghanistan, and Oleg, whose brother was executed by the Afghan resistance). Other plots include exploring the relationship between the Soviet Union and the anti-apartheid movement, the manipulated Martha's secret spying on her FBI bosses being uncovered, Nina's time in a Soviet Gulag, and Oleg's attempts to protect her through his father's influence.
Philip and Elizabeth eventually reveal the truth to Paige, who then travels to Germany along with Elizabeth for a secret visit of her grandmother. Philip arranges the murder of an FBI employee who then is framed for the spying, in order to protect Martha (who discovers that her husband is a spy, though Philip omits that he works for the Russians). However, the trip to Germany only increases Paige's contempt for her parents, leading to her calling her reverend mentor and revealing her family's secret to them.
|1||90% (48 reviews)||78 (35 reviews)|
|2||97% (37 reviews)||88 (31 reviews)|
|3||100% (53 reviews)||92 (23 reviews)|
|4||99% (43 reviews)||95 (28 reviews)|
The first season of The Americans received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, it received a 90 percent approval rating with an average score of 7.8 out of 10 based on 48 reviews, with a critics consensus of: "The Americans is a spy thriller of the highest order, with evocative period touches and strong chemistry between its leads." Metacritic scored the show a 78 out of 100 based on 35 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews". The American Film Institute listed it as one of the top ten television series of 2013. Rob Brunner of Entertainment Weekly described it as "an absorbing spy thriller" while David Hinkley of the New York Daily News praised the pace, noting that "It's a premise that requires as much clever dramatic footwork as you might expect, and creator Joe Weisberg, a former CIA agent, handles the challenge". Verne Gay of Newsday called it a "smart newcomer with a pair of leads that turns The Americans into a likely winner" and gave it a grade of an "A−".
Some reviews were not as optimistic. The Washington Post was cautious in its outlook, stating how, "it's easy to see how stale it might get in a matter of episodes." Variety, while finding the concept "intriguing and provocative", ultimately concluded that, "The execution ... isn't worthy of the premise."
The second season received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, it received a 97 percent approval rating with an average score of 8.8 out of 10 based on 37 reviews, with a critics consensus of: "Adding fuel to the fire, The Americans retains all the suspense and action of season one while enhancing the level of excitement... and wigs." Metacritic scored the show an 88 out of 100 based on 31 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Several entities have rated the show among the best television for 2014, including the American Film Institute, The A.V. Club, and Grantland.
Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter called the series "one of television's finest dramas" and praised the ability of the writers in "nailing down season two ... by picking up where the story left off and making sure that this spy-vs.-spy thing has real-life costs." Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette praised the series for doing "the near-impossible of making viewers cheer for Russian spies in America and at the same time for the American FBI agents who are trying to unmask those Russians living in suburbia." Alan Sepinwall of HitFix praised the second season, stating how the show has, "taken a major creative leap—the kind that can elevate a show from a strong example of its era to one that transcends eras."
Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times did not approve of its portrayal of the children, expressing concern for how viewers are expected to accept the dangerous situations the children are placed in while the show continues to use crime and violence to advance the story in The Americans and other like-minded shows. The New York Daily News questioned its survivability: "Credibility starts to fray when our heroes, or anti-heroes, keep needing miraculous last-second evasions and escapes."
The third season received critical acclaim. On Rotten Tomatoes, it received a 100% approval rating with an average score of 9 out of 10 based on 53 reviews, with a critics consensus of: "Family-driven drama and psychological themes propel The Americans' tautly drawn tension, dispensing thrills of a different ilk this season." Metacritic lists a score of 92 out of 100 based on 23 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Alessandra Stanley's review in The New York Times states that, "'The Americans' is an unusually clever, subtle drama that uses the conventions of a Cold War thriller to paint a portrait of a complicated, evolving but not unhappy marriage...[E]very season gets more complicated, and is all the better for it." Maureen Ryan of The Huffington Post declared that the first four episodes were "every bit as taut and finely crafted as the stellar prior season of the show." Todd VanDerWerff of Vox said "The Americans is in the kind of incredible stretch of episodes TV dramas sometimes hit in the middle of their runs" and that it is "on one of the best runs of episodes in TV drama history."
The fourth season received widespread acclaim from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, it received a 99% approval rating with an average score of 9.2 out of 10 based on 43 reviews, with a critics consensus of: "With its fourth season, The Americans continues to deliver top-tier spy drama while sending its characters in directions that threaten to destroy their freedoms – and their lives." On Metacritic, the season has a score of 95 out of 100 based on 28 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com praised the series and wrote, "It is that depth of character and nuance in the writing that elevates The Americans, along with its willingness to offer stunning narrative developments. [...] I'm now convinced that when we close the final chapter of this televised novel we may finally appreciate one of the best shows we've ever seen."
Awards and nominations
The Americans airs internationally in Australia on Network Ten, Canada on FX Canada, Ireland on RTÉ Two, and the United Kingdom on ITV. ITV dropped the series in January 2015 and did not acquire the third season. On July 20, 2015, ITV acquired seasons three and four for their subscription channel ITV Encore.
Home media releases
The first season was released on DVD and Blu-ray in region 1 on February 11, 2014, in region 2 on March 24, 2014, and in region 4 on February 5, 2014. Special features include audio commentary on "The Colonel" by Joe Weisberg, Joel Fields and Noah Emmerich; three featurettes—"Executive Order 2579: Exposing the Americans", "Perfecting the Art of Espionage", and "Ingenuity Over Technology"; gag reel; and deleted scenes.
The second season was released only on DVD format in region 1 on December 16, 2014, and in region 2 on January 26, 2015. Special features include two featurettes—"Operation Ghost Stories: The Real Directorate 'S'" and "Shades of Red: The Mortality of the Americans"; gag reel; and deleted scenes.
- Illegals Program, ten Russian sleeper agents under non-official cover arrested in 2010 by the FBI.
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