There’s a lot to savor in Caroline Framke’s in-depth exploration of the making of a TV episode — specifically “The Americans'” “Clark’s Place,” which aired this Wednesday on FX. Over the course of several months, beginning last November, Framke followed the fifth episode of “The Americans'” fourth season from table read through final cut, and provides a ton of insights into both the process in general and “The Americans” in specific. Among them are the show’s concern with period realism, which is arguably scrupulous to a fault: Good catch making sure that teenage daughter Paige pressed the buttons on a calculator with her index finger instead of using her thumbs as if she was texting, but was it really necessary to strike a line about a Trivial Pursuit question involving “I Love Lucy” because that card wasn’t in the 1983 edition of the game?
But as so often happens with “The Americans,” the most important detail has to do with hair. If you’re a fan of the show, you already know that the costume and hair department gives pet names to every one of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings’ disguises, but there’s been less focus on how they deal with the supporting players, especially those who aren’t supposed to be wearing wigs. For years, I’ve winced every time Kelly AuCoin’s Pastor Tim has come on the screen, not because of AuCoin’s fine performance but because of the wavy tangle of hair atop his head. (Is the kindly church leader supposed to look like Alan Partridge’s toupée twin?) With Paige’s crisis of faith coming to the fore in the new season, the show’s wig mistress, Peg Schierholz, has, as Framke explains, upped her game, Pastor Tim-wise.
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“The writers and showrunners often give Schierholz a heads up on whether a character is sticking around for a longer period of time so she can plan accordingly,” Framke writes. “Sometimes there’s a surprise; for example, she didn’t expect Kelly AuCoin’s Pastor Tim to be as prominent a character as he’s become, and had to adjust his perfunctory wig into something more permanent.”
Here’s how Pastor Tim looked then:
And how he looks now:
The difference in the new season has been notable, and it’s just one more example of how “The Americans” continues to improve its game.