Pilot || Turn S1 E1 || B-
AMC has found itself in a bit of a tough spot. With two of its three biggest shows either finished or drawing to a close, the network is in desperate need of some new content. And while the Walking Dead and Breaking Bad spinoffs will no doubt be fun, many are beginning to wonder—will the originality that has come to define the network slip away with the finale of Mad Men next year?
It’s into this uncertainty that Turn arrives. Set in the midst of young America’s fight for independence, the show centers on a farmer named Abraham Woodhull who is struggling to provide for his wife and infant son. Their Long Island home is swarming with British soldiers, though Abe himself makes a concerted effort to remain neutral in his political affiliations. This is complicated somewhat by his father’s close ties with the British and venerated position as the local judge. In spite of his hesitance, Abe’s loyalties quickly begin to shift when he is caught smuggling his goods by the Continental Militia. Given the option between a lengthy prison sentence and the use of his smuggling abilities for more serious matters—namely, the smuggling of information for the Patriot cause—Abe chooses the latter. Thus begins the story of America’s first spy ring.
While such a premise might make for a great film or miniseries, I’m not confident Turn has what it takes to make a great TV show. The show might be enjoyable for the first season or two … but then what? Abe will go on spying, sneaking across enemy lines, decoding letters with hidden messages. There will always be a mole in the ranks, and somebody will always end up stabbed in the back. Along the way, the characters will run into historical figures we learned about in elementary school and face off against stereotypical British villains. Other than that, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to look forward to. The show feels as if it’s backed into a corner before it even starts, and little if anything about it seems to indicate longevity. And I know it’s a little unfair to compare Turn with anything else on AMC, but if you take a look at the pilots for Breaking Bad or Mad Men, those shows really could have gone anywhere. Needless to say, I don’t get the same impression from Turn.
As far as pilots go, however, it was still an enjoyable watch. If the show fails à la Low Winter Sun, it won’t be on account of poor casting. The show’s main protagonist, played by Jaime Bell, is reminiscent of a young Andrew Lincoln (although way less crazy/prone to see his dead wife everywhere). Kevin R. McNally, perhaps best known for his role as Gibbs in Pirates of the Caribbean, was born for another era, and fits perfectly in 18th century America. And then there’s Burn Gorman, who, as always, is creepy in his own weird way. In this aspect, the show comes across as competent, and there are no uncertainties about the quality of the acting.
Despite this, the pilot still had its flaws. I’m not sure how closely the story sticks to the source material (a book by Alexander Rose titled Washington’s Spies), but the show’s premise seemed to come together a little too quickly and a little too neatly. And while it set the stage for what’s to come, there wasn’t a whole lot going on in the here and now. So even though this first episode was enjoyable, the fact remains that Turn has a lot of growing to do if it ever hopes to last. If it “turns” out that this series is actually going anywhere, though, I’ll be very interested to find out where it ends up.
On a side note…
- Okay, I’m sorry about that last pun. That was bad.
- There was no doubt a lot of blood spilled during the Revolutionary War, and AMC is definitely not the type of network to shy away from something like that. I almost feel like Turn should have aired alongside The Walking Dead instead of Mad Men.
- I can’t decide whether the opening credits fit the show. It feels a little steampunk-y to me.