TV Review: ‘Turn: Washington’s Spies,’ Season 2

Turn Washington Spies TV Review AMC
Antony Platt/AMC

At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, perhaps it’s time to temporarily retire the Revolutionary War as a dramatic TV backdrop. Following “Sons of Liberty,” the miniseries that presented history in the style of a beer commercial, comes the second season of “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” an AMC series that certainly looks handsome and draws on literary material but remains dramatically limp, despite near misses, turning doorknobs and other tricks of the espionage-on-screen trade. George Washington and Benedict Arnold are among this season’s historical supporting players, but barring the occasional flash, it’s not just the teeth that are wooden.

It’s 1777 as the second season begins, with the rebellious colonists under the leadership of Gen. Washington (Ian Kahn) reeling from the loss of Philadelphia to the British. As such, the efforts of spy Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) and his co-conspirators become especially important, as he pretends to be a loyal Tory while seeking to ferret out information about the occupying force’s plans.

The British, meanwhile, are engaged in their own counterespionage efforts, with intelligence chief John Andre (JJ Feild) seeing an opportunity to turn Arnold (Owain Yeoman), a bold officer who chafes against what he sees as a lack of recognition under Washington’s command.
The season is set in motion by a sculpture of King George that contains a message for Washington. The quest for that contraband becomes one of several plots introduced and inched along through the first four hours.

There are some nice elements, such as the infatuation of British officer Maj. Hewlett (Burn Gorman) with Anna (Heather Lind), who is working with Woodhull as part of the spy ring. There’s also the return of the venomous Simcoe (Samuel Roukin), so evil that he practically hisses out his dialogue.

The pieces, however, never quite add up to anything with enough cohesion or narrative flow. And despite unflinching bursts of violence — a throat-slitting here, a scalping there — the suspense is tempered by the setting and a realization how long the war will drag on, transforming some of the caper aspects into “Mission: Impossible” (the series, not the movies) in powered wigs and red coats.

AMC was wise to relaunch the show with a two-hour premiere, although the extra plot doesn’t do much to reel anyone back who didn’t stay loyal throughout the first season.

Give the network credit for gambling on a period series with obvious ambition, produced at considerable expense. Yet after the opening salvo of this second campaign, what kept coming to mind about “Turn” is that it also describes what somebody can readily do with a TV remote.

TV Review: 'Turn: Washington's Spies,' Season 2

(Series; AMC, Mon. April 13, 9 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Virginia by Sesfonstein Prods. and Josephson Entertainment in association with AMC Studios.

Crew

Executive producers, Craig Silverstein, Barry Josephson; co-executive producer, Michael Taylor; supervising producer, Andrew Colville; produce, Henry Bronchtein; directors, Gary Fleder, Andrew McCarthy; writers, Silverstein, Taylor; camera, Marvin Rush; production designer, Caroline Hanania; editors, Andrew Seklir, David Lebowitz; music, Marco Beltrami, Brandon Roberts; casting, Laura Schiff, Carrie Audino. 120 MIN.

Cast

Jamie Bell, Seth Numrich, Daniel Henshall, Heather Lind, Meegan Warner, Kevin R. McNally, Burn Gorman, Angus Macfadyen, JJ Feild, Samuel Roukin, Ian Kahn, Stephen Root, Nick Westrate, Idara Victor, Owain Yeoman, Ksenia Solo

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  1. Alistar Gary says:

    Turn is my favorite newer show on TV. It is the only show on AMC I watch. This review is way off.

  2. Yvonne ramirez says:

    I love the show called turn ots great me who is not a hostory buff this show xxx has me hanging on to the next monday it comes on the suspense is great cant wait fo rd season 4

  3. Vespasian says:

    nothing but a soap opera. weepy and lovesick Major Andre, thoroughly inaccurate.
    it is nothing but a disservice to the brave men and women of the Culper ring.

  4. Sadie says:

    Nothing is more annoying than people who rate a TV SHOW poor because it’s “historically inaccurate”. So what. Who says it must be? It’s entertainment not history class. This show is engaging and entertaining. It’s a good break from the same ol’ same. The poor reviews around the web are ridiculous, and overly critical as if there’s some other show that does it better.

  5. Mike Martin says:

    Just started watching the show, but am confused. Independence Day was 7/4/1776. Why are the episodes dated in 1777?

  6. Colin says:

    Terrible. Doesnt make up its mind who the alpha is.

  7. BLZ says:

    Note to self: If there is an article where Brian Lowry is critiquing a show, do not bother reading it.

  8. Robert E McFeeley says:

    I thought Turn Washington’s spies was a great series I was looking forward to it 2015 season but it never happen. Why did they cancel it?

  9. Awesome show! I majored in history and taught high school social studies. The problem for most young people studying history is that reality (mostly) is not constant action, smart dialogue, and blood drenched a la Game of Thrones. Things also moved slower before cars, cellphones, electricity was discovered!! I think it is great to see our earliest heroes/leaders/founders “reenacted”, along with famous early battles. Hats off to the producers and cast of this production. Bring on Season 3 and give us a grand finale!!!

  10. Vespasian says:

    It has deteriorated into nothing more than a soap opera. Historically incorrect. Woodhull was never captured, did not have an affair with Anna, not in conflict with his father. His father was severely beaten by the British. Four episodes were wasted as a stupid soap opera. The series should have ended with Arnold’s escape, capture and execution of Major Andre and the surrender of the British at Yorktown when they realized the French Fleet was waiting. Season ended with yet another cliff hanger. No need for a season three. Save your electricity.

  11. Carly Durgin says:

    Your “wooden” criticism is shows ignorance of the vernacular of Colonial times…tell it like it was.

  12. B Curry says:

    The reviewer simply hates the United States I guess. It’s fascinating that someone is trying to pull this off and we should support continuing the show. I suppose he prefers “Downtown Abbey”, but for myself and millions of other people around the world…it’s about time we’ve had a show like this. Let’s perfect it and keep it going and maybe even get younger viewers. Shame on him!

  13. Rich Pearce says:

    I disagree with the reviewer and really love the show. I am an early American history buff and am in favor of any show that calls attention to this period. Having said that, I like the show because it keeps me and my family riveted to our TV. I like all of the characters good and bad and think they are perfect for their rolls. I have season one on DVD and hope to get season 2 and many more after that. I hope AMC keeps it going.

  14. Debbie says:

    This is a wonderful show. I guess this reviewer is one who would rather see another season of Survivor. Ewwww. Please keep this show on. Love it. You can show the Revolutionary war anytime.

  15. Pat says:

    Obviously, the reviewer prefers fictional flash and dance television rather than anything that is a bit more real. Although not 100% historically accurate, this is a solid series. The Revolutionary War has been left behind in terms of our efforts to educate our society on its significance. (An indication of this is evident in the review itself as anyone who knows even a little about George Washington knows that he did not have wooden teeth). Those in that era consisted of this country’s first “Greatest Generation”. I can’t imagine what those people had to endure in order to secure our independence. We are only now building a museum in Philadelphia devoted exclusively to the Revolutionary War…about a 100 years past due. Its refreshing to be able to view a well-made production that doesn’t contain brainless material designed to reach the lowest common denominator in terms of entertainment value, which is what it appears this reviewer prefers. I do agree that dialogue is often hard to understand and sub-titles might have been a good idea. But I appreciate the guts AMC has in putting forth something from this era in spite of the risk of shallow reviews like this one.

  16. carolynh07 says:

    Outstanding show! I’ll be crushed if it’s not renewed. Finally, a Washington who seems real and not old and stuffy. The show is mostly accurate historically, with some dramatic embellishments, but it’s still far closer to the truth than most. All the actors are fine, and the stories are, too.

  17. Charles W. Bousliman says:

    Having watched each and every episode with increased interest and appreciation. Finally a George Washington who did more than fess up about taking down cherry tree. I was, for want of a better word,, “shocked,” no make that dismayed to hear of the rumor that the series might not be renewed. True? If so, then let’s begin with the termination of those who make such flawed decisions.

  18. Maureen Nobles says:

    This is one of the best shows on TV ever. My husband and I look forward to each new episode. I’m really interested in history and ancestry, so its nice that actual characters and places in the show are based on real people and places. I sure hope it will be renewed. Maybe as more people watch it, they will develop more of an interest in the history of our country!

    • Robert Finley says:

      The best show on television still is BAND OF BROTHERS ! TURN is also a very good show. It is not historically accurate, but it is entertaining and well done. Jamie Bell has developed into a fine young actor and has a great future in acting. I have to agree that some of the dialogue is hard to hear and understand,but that could be just me. American history (the good and the bad) is important for all of us to see and learn about,and learn from. I hope TURN continues for another season and to its conclusion, it may not be accurate but it makes me want to buy the book and learn more about our history.

  19. This is the best show on Television since Newsroom. The reviewer has his head up where the sun doesn’t shine! Please people. . . get with it and support this show. I will be devastated if it doesn’t get another season.

  20. Nancy Helmig says:

    What this show needs is subtitles! Tooi much whispering, a la “True Detectives”. Even our fifteen year old grandson can’t get all the dialogue. Too much great history going to waste.

  21. poison66 says:

    This is an awesome show. I’ve actually got my wife watching season 1 trying to catch up with the current season. She’s definitely not hip on historical shows but she loves this one! This reviewer is clueless.

  22. Vespasian says:

    It is certainly better than the Sons of Liberty from the historically inaccurate channel. Simcoe is really an interesting character for his sheer evil as is Rogers. Could not understand why Washington did not have him hanged. No good deed goes unpunished. Sometimes it is a soap opera but enjoyable.

  23. BettyO says:

    i finally found a show that captures my attention. This series is awesome. Great to see how hard our brave men and women fought to found this great nation. Great acting. Love Washington! Glad to see more of him this season. Watching history of our nation. Don’t know what this reviewer was watching. Hope the show lasts.

  24. What are you talking about? This show is great. I hope it gets more love from the public as we get through season 2.

  25. There is a dramatic difference in the pace between season 1 and season 2. The second season is much more crisp and action filled. It’s a shame the show is not being reviewed in mainstream sites like Vulture or What’s Alan Watching. I really hope this show survives.

  26. Great show Simcoe is my fave

  27. crochetlit says:

    You didn’t like Peaky Blinders and now this. At this point I am beginning to think it has to do with taste. You are probably allergic to good television and instead addicted to lowbrow fan-fiction type drama. Turn is interesting and worth watching.

  28. sj says:

    great show, better than most

  29. LABete says:

    I have to disagree with your review. I had a lot of issues with last season’s focus on Abe’s soap opera of small town life. This season, the show seems to have really gotten on track to be the spy thriller that I was hoping for last year. I found the premiere to be riveting and better focused on the spying and the spy ring.

  30. Pat Davis says:

    I can make no sense at all of this review. What show were you watching, guy? I loved the two hour opener, my husband started watching it for the first time and was as caught up as I was. There’s a lot going on, it sure makes a lot more sense to me than Game of Thrones. Excellent stuff!

  31. Elizabeth Mitchell says:

    TURN requires a little bit of thought and mental interaction. Unfortunately most viewers, including the reviewer, aren’t willing to work that hard. Sad. I love the show!!!

  32. The reviewer seems to simply not like historical dramas. Maybe The Family Guy is more his speed. Turn is a fine alternative to the constant social agenda sitcoms out there.

  33. Derek StJohn says:

    I love this show, and don’t agree with this review. The Revolutionary War background works for me since it provides a reminder of our complex history with the UK–and, in today’s violent age of terrorism, that we Americans once were the rebellious traitors to the lawful authority: the British Crown. IMO, this review takes the viewpoint that because there’s only a minor dose of graphic violence (throat cutting, scalping) this series is unworthy of serious consideration. Wrong! Not everyone (especially me) are obsessed with Game-of-Thrones type of violence and shocks.

  34. Daniels says:

    Loooove Turn

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