April 14, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Turn: Washington’s Spies”



After its initial season concluded, the reruns of AMC’s Revolutionary War drama TURN acquired the subtitle WASHINGTON’S SPIES, presumably in recognition of the fact that the original title conveyed absolutely nothing about what the show was about.  There was the hope that this signaled a Season 2 that would take action to fix the other, more serious problems with the series, but that season is now here, and almost nothing about Turn, extra verbiage or not, has changed.

In fact, after a misleadingly exciting pre-credits sequence set in England and featuring Mad King George III, the 2-hour season premiere (Hour 1 written by series creator Craig Silverstein and directed by Gary Fleder; Hour 2 written by Executive Producer Michael Taylor and directed by Andrew McCarthy) acted aggressively to reverse just about everything that appeared to change in the Season 1 finale.  That episode had climaxed with our hero, Long Island farmer and rebel spy Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) killing the redcoat who was resident in his house when the man discovered that Abe was working on behalf of the colonials, and Abe’s wife Mary (Meegan Warner), despite her stern disapproval of Abe’s sympathies and actions–and his extracurricular love life with old flame and fellow spy Anna (Heather Lind)–helped cover up the crime by burning their house down.  In another plotline, psycho British Captain Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) was banished to a menial clerking job.

When we returned to the action in October 1777, Abe was keeping up his loveless marriage with Mary while living with their son in the house of his Tory magistrate father Richard (Kevin R. McNally), unable to be with Anna or accomplish any espionage.  But by the end of the episode, despite Mary’s efforts to stymie him, Abe had reestablished his old spying route to New York City by pretending to the local British officer in command, foppish Major Hewlett (Burn Gorman), that he was spying on the rebels instead of the redcoats, and Simcoe was back on Long Island and as murderous as ever.

It wasn’t that the series was devoid of new plotlines:  Major John Andre (JJ Feild) set his sights on seducing a colonial General to the British cause.  But since that general is Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman), there’s certainly no suspense about how successful he’ll be.  It’s almost as hard to get interested in the pathetic crush Hewlett has on Anna, which she’ll certainly use to her advantage until, late in the season, he’ll catch on to the fact that she’s untrustworthy.  There’s also a royal hunt for a stolen seal, which the King has assigned the colorful Robert Rogers (Angus Macfadyen) to track down before the rebels or the French can find it, and perhaps that will end up being diverting.

On the whole, for a show about spies and war, Turn has been oddly unexciting, partly because it features so little of either.  Apart from some skullduggery involving eggs, there’s hardly any historical spycraft in the series, and the scripts rarely illuminate the progress of the Revolution beyond a bulletin or two.  (The redcoats have taken Philadelphia!)  Worse yet, the characters are almost entirely bland, with the exceptions of Andre, Rogers and–in a bad way–the homicidal lunatic Simcoe.  Although the premiere went out of its way to explain Mary’s dogged attempt to frustrate everything Abe wants to do, ultimately she’s little more than an obstacle in his path, and Anna, while more sympathetic, is lacking in dimension too.  Abe himself is a flat protagonist, a hero only because the show tells us that’s what he is.

Turn was a bubble show last season, although it had a following among older viewers, and this year it’s being asked to singlehandedly hold down the Monday beachhead that AMC established this winter with Better Call Saul. That may be too much of a challenge for a series that isn’t nearly revolutionary enough.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."