FX's spy drama The Americans, starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Cold War-era Russian spies, has arrived on Blu-Ray and DVD, plus there's a second season just around the corner. To see what we could figure out about the hit show, we enlisted series creator Joe Weisberg and his co-writer Joel Fields to answer some questions for us. (You can also check out our interview with executive producer Graham Yost.) Here's what we learned from Joe and Joel.
Firstly, you're not going to get them to name a favorite installment from the show so far. "We particularly like the first thirteen episodes of The Americans season one," they told us. "We recommend watching them all back-to-back, only taking breaks to go to the bathroom and let in the take-out delivery person."
Surely they can give us a couple of favorite moments, right? "One particular moment we like is Elizabeth [Russell] beating the shit out of Claudia [Margo Martindale]. Who doesn’t like that?" they added. "Also, the moment where Philip [Rhys] and Elizabeth look at each other after they have chosen to let Gregory [Derek Luke] go off to meet his fate."
Between the two of them, usually together, Joe and Joel wrote about half of season one of The Americans. How exactly do they collaborate? "You should see us right now – we’re finishing each other’s sentences," they said. "Laughing, or not laughing, at each other’s jokes, Derek is typing...This is pretty much how it goes.
"When we write together, we generally start with long walks where we talk about the stories and character, then we put them down on paper into a very brief story structure we call a beat sheet," they continued. "We then expand that into a more detailed outline and we write the script from that, sometimes hewing to it closely and sometimes allowing it to take us into unexpected directions.
"It’s the same process on episodes we don’t write, but with our fantastic writers room working together. The room also breaks the whole season, the stories and character arcs."
One of the notable aspects of The Americans is that it works real events that took place during the time period into certain episodes. We asked Joe and Joel to explain when they choose to go that route, and how they keep history and fiction meshing so well together. "This show takes place at a specific time in history, and real events are key to the heart and soul of the drama," they told us. "In particular, the characters themselves are motivated by their beliefs in the politics of the day, so events are particularly important to the stories we’re telling.
"We keep a huge wall in our writer’s office, crammed with details about the year in which the season takes place. And the room in which we write features a calendar of that year on which every episode is laid out, so we are constantly aware of what was really happening in the lives and world of our characters."
Did they accomplish everything they'd originally hoped to do with season one? Or did anything get left on the writer's room floor along the way? "There were certain storylines that laid out exactly as planned, and others that surprised us with unexpected turns even as we wrote the scripts," they said. "We try to stay several scripts and stories ahead in our writing process, so that we can always go back and refine things as we move forward and discover new territory."
"There are always a lot of ideas that get left on the side of the road," they added. "Some get saved for future seasons, and others are just amusing memories to which we can return, laughing about how sure we were of what was gonna happen before we knew how wrong we were. It is a great feeling when a story you thought was dead pops back up later and becomes really important."
If you haven't figured it out by now, Joe and Joel might write a very serious show, but they have a fantastic sense of humor. Asked how tight-lipped they were about the series' secrets, they quipped, "We work in an acoustically shielded underground bunker in Brooklyn. Nobody even knows where we are. Most of what we say publicly is disinformation."
Assuming we could get them to tell us the truth, what one hint would they give us about season two? "Watch Clark and Martha," they said. "We really believe those two crazy kids just might make it."
Season one of The Americans arrives on Blu-Ray and DVD today; you can order your copy here. Season two begins later this month.