Review: AMC’s ‘Turn’ a middling Revolutionary War drama

Last month, in trying to identify the greatest TV opening credit sequences of all time, I noted that a great credit sequence can make me more kindly disposed to a mediocre show than I'd be without it. Take away the Aloe Blacc song and those great New York City photographs, and “How To Make It In America” is among the more forgettable comedies HBO's ever given us, and yet those credits kept me watching well into the second season just because I enjoyed them and they hinted at a better version of the show.

Another way of looking at that, though, is that a great opening credits sequence can make you think less of a show that doesn't live up to it. Case in point: “Turn,” AMC's new Revolutionary War spy drama, which debuts Sunday night at 9. In a vacuum, it's about on par with early episodes of another AMC historical piece in “Hell on Wheels.” It does a decent job of recreating the colonies in 1776 and there are some solid actors in the cast (notably Jamie Bell as Long Island cabbage farmer Abraham, torn between his loyalist father and his  friends in Washington's army). It's not that glamorous or exciting, but it's decent, and may be of more interest to those with a specific interest in the period.

The opening credits, though, feature a series of animated drawings depicting the various methods of spycraft that could be deployed back in the late 18th Century, and they suggest a more fun – or, at least, more urgent – show than the one that's been provided. This is a very dour series, with a lot of effort put in to depict Abraham as a weary everyman uncertain where his loyalties should lie outside of his immediate family (and given that his wife is a nagging non-character while his ex-girlfriend is working with the colonials, even that allegiance is suspect). What's pitched as a spy show – and creator Craig Silverstein last worked on “Nikita,” so he knows from TV spies – instead in the early stages plays like a vaguely spy-adjacent show. There is talk of hanging petticoats in windows and other primitive signals, and at one point Abraham's cabbages come in handy when he meets some sauerkraut-hungry Hessians with useful intelligence to share, but a lot of it is Abraham stumbling around, unsure what to do or whom to trust, intercut with various interchangeable actors in wigs and red or blue coats.

It may be that, like the protagonist of another slow-moving AMC drama that ended just last year, Abraham might get much better at his new profession in time, and that by late in this first season (or a second, if the ratings are any good airing in tandem with “Mad Men”), the long live-action portions of the show might more closely resemble the brief animated introduction. But that show had some dazzling elements from the start, and wasn't premiering in an environment where TV was overflowing with very good-to-great dramas. “Turn” isn't bad, but it's also too forgettable to deserve a long look, cool credits or no.