Spring 2014 Review: Turn

14 Apr

Turn

Turn is about spies during the American Revolution. The original spy ring (or if not, close enough). It’s 1776, early in the war, and the UK is kind of owning the burgeoning US at this point (also probably not known as the Revolutionary War at that point).

The Brits control New York and Long Island. On Long Island, Abe Woodhull is twenty-to-thirty something mild-mannered farmer whose dad Richard is an important loyalist who serves as an adviser to the local British ruler, Major Hewlett. Abe’s no loyalist or patriot, he merely wants to keep his head down, make some cash, and get through the war unscathed. He wasn’t entirely unaffected by the conflict, though. The love of his life Anna, a fervent rebel, broke his heart and married someone else when his family chose to stand so prominently in the loyalist camp.

Abe’s a little bit of a dreamer, and he draws on his dad’s patience, but he has a wife and young son and gets himself in minor scraps but nothing so bad. His life is about to change in a big way, though. He attempts to smuggle some goods out of Long Island to make a buck or two, but gets caught on his way back by the rebels. They make him a proposition; work for us, and you’ll go free. They need a spy, he needs some sense of purpose and a renewed connection with his lost love, whose husband was sent off to prison at the beginning of the episode for fighting with some British soldiers. Most of the episode features Abe slowly deciding to actually work for the rebels. First, he says, he’s just doing it once, then doing it twice, until some combination of nudging from his old pals who are now rebels and the newfound respect of the woman he once loved, and maybe an inflated sense of destiny seem to put him firmly on the rebels’ side.

Turn is an okay show but nothing more.  What it really is is a pretty good idea for a show, but it never really comes together. The idea probably sounded better as a pitch that it did in practice in the first episode. AMC does take shows seriously. We know that from their past, the chances they took. And yet, this seems more like a hesitant stab; a show not fully willing to go all out, a show that strays from the typical only a careful, measured amount. It doesn’t feel like it has the ambition that Mad Men and Breaking Bad did (though that’s unfair because very few shows do) but it feels one tier removed from a USA show. Somewhere inside this show is a show that wants to take that jump to the interesting and new, but something is holding it back.

What’s remarkable, honestly, more than anything else, is how the first episode of a show made about spies is so, well, boring.  The Americans and Homeland have brought spies back to television in a big way, and Turn (while maybe already better than Homeland season 3, but that’s beside the point) doesn’t put together a pilot nearly as compelling of either of theirs. I barely remember any of the characters; they didn’t particularly stand out nor did anything about the show

It’s not a show without merit. For all the period dramas in the last few years, the American revolution has been a time period largely uncovered, and the idea of early spying before all the devices and the technology, and really before anybody knew exactly what spying entailed, could be both compelling and thought providing. It isn’t in the one episode, but it’s not so far in the other direction to think that it never could be. There are interesting possibilities that even I can think of, watching this episode. While it’s easy to view the rebels as on the side of right, it’s hardly as if the enemy Brits were an Axis-like enemy without humanity. What does freedom mean? What’s is the honor in warfare vs. spycraft, and does it matter? Not to mention, it’s a spy show, and it should be somewhat fun, and there’s no reason it can’t be.

While I think Turn can have the potential to be better, it’s more because it wasn’t obvious that it closed that potential off, than that it really showed any in the pilot. Turn is still one solid step away from bringing me back for more.

Will I watch it again? No. AMC is desperately looking to find its next success, and it’s having trouble. While not terrible by any means, sadly, I don’t think this is it.

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