TV Review: ‘Turn’

AMC Turn TV Review

As a fan of period pieces in general, there’s little pleasure in saying AMC should perhaps steer clear of them for a while. Because in the wake of Western “Hell on Wheels” comes the new Revolutionary War-era drama “Turn,” which doesn’t turn fast enough, alas, to breathe life into its characters or setting during an extended 90-minute premiere. Dense, dank and atmospheric, the series certainly has all the trappings of a prestige cable drama, but lacks the vigor of a first-rate spy thriller. Besides, if Ben Franklin were around today, he’d probably be more curious about what’s on Cinemax.

Despite the promise of focusing on “America’s first spy ring,” based on the book “Washington Spies,” “Turn” begins with rather mundane matters of crops and debt. It’s 1776, the Revolutionary War has begun, and Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) is a young farmer living in British-occupied Long Island, trying to support his wife (Meegan Warner) and baby son.

Largely out of necessity at first, Abraham agrees to a mission on behalf of the Rebels. He will gradually unite with friends to form the Culper Ring, which fed information to George Washington.

Adding soap-opera fuel to the fire, Abraham is still in contact with a woman he loved (Heather Lind), who, after politics drove them apart, semi-faithlessly went on to marry someone else, a patriot leader who runs afoul of the British authorities. Woodhull’s devotion to her, however — as evidenced by many longing, pregnant stares — comes at a price, while her beauty itself exacts a cost, if the lecherousness of the British officers who encounter her is any indication. (Even in the 18th century, evidently it can be kind of awkward to work alongside an ex.)

Developed by Craig Silverstein, with a pilot directed by Rupert Wyatt, “Turn” gets the details right, and the violence, when it happens, comes fast and bloody. Subsequent episodes grind along in similar fashion, portraying the horrors of war and the stress of tested devotions.

Still, the inherent tension viewers have come to expect from a spy yarn feels as muted as the color palette beyond those florid Red coats. And the hours progress with only marginal momentum, suggesting the show might prove as long a slog as the war itself.

The setting is certainly an excuse to cast a lot of topnotch U.K. talent, and the producers have done that. In addition to Bell, the players include Burn Gorman as the local British commander and Angus Macfadyen as a grizzled mercenary with fungible loyalties.

Still, for all those neatly appointed trappings and period touches, “Turn” simply feels hollow at its core. And that, ultimately, is something even an accomplished spy ring can’t disguise.

TV Review: 'Turn'

(Series; AMC, Sun. April 6, 9 p.m.)


Filmed in Richmond, Va. by Entertainment One.


Executive producers, Craig Silverstein, Barry Josephson; co-executive producer, Michael Taylor; supervising producer, Andrew Colville; producer, Michael Rapaport; director, Rupert Wyatt; writer, Silverstein; based on the book “Washington Spies” by Alexander Rose; camera, Marvin Rush; production designer, Caroline Hanania; casting, Carrie Audino, Laura Schiff, Kendra Shay Clark. 90 MIN.


Jamie Bell, Seth Numrich, Daniel Henshall, Heather Lind, Meegan Warner, Kevin R. McNally, Burn Gorman, Angus Macfadyen, JJ Feild, Samuel Roukin

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  1. I wonder if Andrew Colville is related to the Colvilles who were in Revolutionary War and came to America as pioneers. My ancestors were those Colvilles…..

  2. Connor says:

    Yeah I don’t really know about this article. All the reviews seem to say the same thing but all of me and my friends loved the show. I’d say it has more to do with these guys repulsion of anything that might be slightly nationalistic in their eyes. The show was pretty good. Either way you should go decide for yourself

  3. Jerseytime says:

    Is may be because I read the book (Washington’s Spies), or grew up in the Setauket, L.I. area, but I found the opener hitting all the right buttons. Saying it “doesn’t have the tension of a good spy thriller” may be because the entire first episode is essentially setting up Woodhull’s recruitment. No real spying has occurred yet.
    I suspect the viewer needs more titillation than historical events can give him. After all, As he said, its not
    about zombies.
    So far, it appears well acted and written. And strikes the right tone- which Black Sails, for instance, does not. My only suggestion at this point would be to give it a different time slot than its competitors Cosmos, The Good Wife and Game of Thrones.

  4. Aimee says:

    I’m sorry to see this as I was really looking forward to the show. Oh well, I’ll check it out anyway and hope for improvement. Also…..fungible? You must love crossword puzzles.

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