Turn takes place during the Revolutionary War in 1776 and 1777. Things were not going great for us at the time. England has landed their navy and taken back New York and had General Washington on the run. Turn takes place in Setauket, New York, a loyalist colony with unique geographical placement. It is merely a boat ride away from both New Jersey and Connecticut, all three with varying levels of occupation. Our main protagonist is Abe Woodhull. Abe is an aspiring farmer trying to make it on his own and get out from under his father’s shadow. His father is the magistrate of Setauket and a staunch loyalist. The town is completely occupied by high level Royal Army officials. Even Abe’s wife is a loyalist. The constant threat of the enemy finding him out from literally anywhere adds a lot to the show. Reluctantly, Abe becomes a spy for the Continental Army as he and his childhood friends that are US rebels will form the Culper Ring, which is America’s first spy ring and who are responsible for turning the tide of the war. We are still only two episodes in, so Abe is still getting his feet wet in the spy world, but obviously bigger things are coming.
There are a lot of really great things about Turn so far. One thing the show does great is suspense. I am constantly nervous watching this show. They do such an amazing job of creating such a dangerous atmosphere for Abe. Everywhere he turns he faces danger of being found out and he never really knows who he can trust. In episode one where he is mere inches away from being found out by Lt. Simcoe I found myself holding my breath the entire time. When he was trying to deceive Ranger Rogers in the second episode, I was leaned forward and couldn’t look away. That’s really great TV. They have also done a masterful job of making Abe very likable and interesting. He is such an important character and almost every scene involves him. His character is the real life historical founder of the Culper Ring, and knowing that makes it all the more interesting to watch him. They have also done a great job of setting the scope and the stakes of the show very high. When it is largely confined to a small colony, it would be easy to forget just how important this story is historically. Yet, they are constantly giving small cues that remind of the war around them when they mention battles and General Washington. It is really well done.
There are some problems that need to be worked out in the show as well. The major problem that Turn faces is the pacing. Sometimes it’s just bad. There is a lot of downtime in the pilot episode. To their credit, the second episode had much better pacing (and was just overall a lot better) but it still wasn’t fixed. In the pilot, the first half of the show aside from the two minute long opening is set up. And the set up is kind of a chore to watch to be honest. I realize it has to be done, but I felt there had to be a better way than what they did. I can’t go from an awesome suspenseful moment and then labor through boring dialogue for ten minutes until I get to the next suspenseful moment. And again, in episode two the boring gaps were MUCH shorter, but they were still there. Knowing where this show is going though really gives me hope for the future as I doubt there are too many future lulls in the show. The second episode also fixed and amplified Turn’s next biggest flaw at the same time. The show needs a consistent compelling villain. Simcoe is okay in spots, but at least for the next few episodes he is gone from Setauket and Major Hewlett just doesn’t hold my attention. Ranger Roger Roberts is by far the most compelling villain so far, and having him in Satauket in episode two was amazing. The contrast and conflict between him and Abe was superbly done. And although he leaves a lasting mark and lingering threat on Abe and the town, he leaves and we know that he won’t be a consistent threat. I realize that the overall villain is England in the show and the fear of being found out by his loyalist friends and family, but villainy needs a face. And whatever face they choose to run with needs to be consistent. I don’t love the whole forbidden love story they have going on either. It’s not needed in the story, and it actually takes away from it at time. And having your hero be in love with a woman that isn’t his wife and mother of his child is counter-productive to the qualities that you want to establish in a hero.
The acting on Turn is very well done, which is no surprise with it being an AMC show (Walking Dead’s acting mediocrity excluded). Abe is played by Jamie Bell who will voice The Thing in next year’s Fantastic Four reboot. He is known for doing voice work so I was anxious to see how he would do in a staring role. Not only is he great, he carries the show. He is able to convey the conflicting emotions of a man in his position perfectly. He seems constantly nervous but always displays a quiet courage. Kevin McNalley who plays Abe’s father Richard is also great. He comes across as a good and likable man that is just on the wrong side with his allegiances, which is exactly what he needed to be. I also am a big fan of Seth Numrich and Daniel Henshall who play Abe’s childhood friends and eventual Culper Ring members Ben Talmadge and Caleb Brewster. Angus MacFadyen plays Ranger Rogers and as always is fantastic. That guy just plays villains perfectly. I wouldn’t say any of the actors/actresses in the show are really bad but there are some that are just mediocre. Samuel Roukin as Lt. Simcoe is okay in spots, but annoying in others. Heather Lind, who plays Anna Strong, Abe’s forbidden love interest, has a strong tenancy to overact and struggles in the emotional scenes that she really needs to shine in. Overall, well above average acting for the show as a whole though.
Overall, I am a big fan of Turn. I am hooked on the story and am excited to watch it unfold. It certainly has it’s flaws and I’m hopeful that they will continue to be worked out as the show progresses. A big advantage of the show is that it is following history and we already know what is going to happen in the end. It makes it a lot easier to push through the slow moments. Does it rank up there with the top spy shows? No it doesn’t. But it does have potential. The Americans on FX is the gold standard of spy shows right now. Everything that Turn does well, The Americans does it better. But all the pieces are in place for it to be a very comparable show. I definitely recommend checking Turn out and seeing where it goes. Is it the next big hit that AMC has desperately been searching for? No, probably not. But they may have just stumbled across a really good show.