On Sunday night, Turn, AMC’s new Revolutionary War drama, has the unenviable task of premiering up against HBO’s Game of Thrones, and doing so without the benefit of a lead-in from an established show. The scheduling of Turn, unfortunately, has all the makings of another Low Winter Sun disaster for the network. But here’s the thing about Turn: It’s considerably better than Low Winter Sun, but it’s still not original enough, interesting enough, or entertaining enough to break through on a very crowded Sunday night of television for anyone except perhaps obsessive history buffs.
Turn is not a bad show, by any stretch. It boasts some very solid performances (particularly that of the lead, Jamie Bell), it’s working from some solid source material (Washington’s Spies by Alexander Rose), and it has a solid director behind the 90-minute pilot (Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ Rupert Wyatt). But it also moves very slowly (as do the next two episodes in the series), and the occasional bursts of excitement don’t really overcome the sloggy pacing or the uninspired storyline, which we’ve seen countless times before, only from characters not wearing red and blue coats.
The series tracks the creation of the Culper Ring, an underground network of spies that helped George Washington and the rebels ultimately advance on the British during the Revolutionary War. Abraham Woodhull (Bell) plays a cabbage farmer who only wants to care for his wife and family, who is unwittingly brought into the conflict between the rebels and the British.
What’s most interesting, I thought, about Turn is the picture we get of the Revolutionary War era in colonial America. Not everyone was sympathetic to George Washington and the rebels, obviously, and in a way, it was something of a civil war between those living in the colonies at the time who supported the rebels and who supported the motherland. In that environment, basically no one could be trusted, and it is hard to tell who supported whom, and if you said the wrong thing to the wrong person, you could end up imprisoned for treason. Abraham gets caught in between those two worlds after he — and those he is sympathetic with — end up saying the wrong things to the wrong people.
They do a nice job of ultimately vilifying the British, so that the small victories of the continental army are satisfying. But it’s mostly a show where a lot of old white men with British accents do a lot of talking, and it finds a lot of difficulty in holding the viewers’ attention. It doesn’t help, either, that Abraham — who is eventually pulled into the Culper Ring, moving intel from the British to the rebels — is also involved in a silly love triangle between his wife (a loyalist) and his childhood sweetheart (a rebel), which muddles things without bringing anything interesting to the equation.
Still, it’s not a bad show at all. It’s very much of the same quality as Hell on Wheels, which means it should have a decent but not that passionate following. History buffs will almost certainly appreciate the perspective and the attention to detail. However, Turn is not going to be another Breaking Bad or Mad Men, and in an age where there’s only so much time, and so many great television choices, Turn doesn’t rise nearly to that level.