‘Spy Wars With Damian Lewis’ Series Arrives on Smithsonian Channel March 22

If you’re still mourning the end of FX’s The Americans — or wondering when a spy film on the level of 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy will appear — a new docu-series from the Smithsonian Channel will be worth your time. Spy Wars With Damian Lewis premieres Sunday, March 22.

Lewis, the star of Showtime’s Billions and former star of Homeland (a great spy show in its final season), hosts the eight-part historical series that explores the more intriguing spy coups in the annals of intelligence operations.

The show, which will run on ViacomCBS’s Smithsonian Channel Sunday nights at 8 p.m. ET/PT, mixes in interviews with real-life officials from the KGB, CIA, and MI6 with historical re-enactments and narration by Lewis.

In premiere episode “The Man Who Saved the World” and others available for Showbiz Cheat Sheet’s preview, Spy Wars had an edge in this crowded genre with its access to primary sources and participation of Lewis.

‘Spy Wars’ digs into spy tales from the Cold War to the present day

Damien Lewis in ‘Spy Wars’ promo | Smithsonian Channel

Spy Wars With Damian Lewis jumps straight into a vintage Cold War tale in its premiere episode. “The Man Who Saved the World” tells the story of Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB agent living in Denmark who decides to flip and work for British intelligence in the late ’60s.

A turning point comes in the USSR’s 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, when Gordievsky decides he can’t work for the Soviet cause any longer. Over the following decade and into the Reagan administration, Gordievsky passes documents to the West that many believe helped avert World War III.

The second episode (March 29), “Bombs in the Sky,” leaps forward to the post-9/11 era. In that installment, viewers see how a British intelligence operation thwarted a terrorist bombing of U.S. planes.

For its third episode (April 5), Spy Wars tells the story of the real-life spies who inspired The Americans. Working as sleeper agent in the U.S., the KGB’s “illegals” eventually became headline news as part of a prisoner swap.

‘Spy Wars’ offers a better take on historical TV

Damian Lewis attends the premiere screening to launch the second season of “Homeland” on September 7, 2012. | Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Showtime

Spy Wars deploys many of the tools that are familiar to fans of true-crime and historical TV. With Lewis narrating, viewers see dramatizations of its subjects’ lived mixed in with period footage from the location in question. The formula itself won’t strike anyone as new.

However, the production benefits immensely from the voices of the actual players. In “The Man Who Saved the World,” viewers hear directly from Gordievsky (still in hiding in the UK) as well as MI6 and KGB agents involved in the case.

In later episodes, this pattern holds. Instead of adjunct professors and “crime consultants,” we’re hearing from primary sources. That alone distinguishes Spy Wars from much of its competition. But there’s more to the high production value than this detail alone.

Lewis proves to be an asset to the series from the opening episode forward. He’s seems locked in to the material, and his strong narration reflects that. Meanwhile, even the historical re-enactments feature superior production quality. Overall, Spy Wars is a treat for fans of espionage tales.

Also see: Why Will ‘Homeland’s’ 8th Season Be Its Last on Showtime?