April 14, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Turn”


TURN:  Sunday 9PM on AMC

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on TURN:  In 1776, apolitical New York cabbage farmer Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) is pulled into spying for the colonial cause, inveigled by his old friends Ben Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) and Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall), and concerned for the safety of old flame Anna Strong (Heather Lind), who will now be his partner in espionage.  Their foes include British Majors Hewlett (Burn Gorman) and Andre (JJ Feild), the vicious Captain Simcoe (Samuel Roukin), tracker Robert Rogers (Angus Macfadyen)–and Abe’s own father Richard (Kevin R. McNally), the local magistrate.  At the end of the pilot, Abe and Anna had succeeded in turning an intended ambush of rebel forces into a massacre of the Redcoats.

Episode 2:  This week’s installment of Turn, written by series creator Craig Silverstein and directed by Ed Bianchi, was more entertaining than the pilot, largely because it gave over a great deal of the hour to Robert Rogers, by far the show’s most colorful character, as he doggedly investigated the murder of the British Captain who’d been killed during the pilot, and in whose murder both Abe and Anna were suspects.  Rogers went all CSI: The Colonies in the local morgue, reconstructing the killing, and then he was behind the final twist, as the killer was found (the victim’s homosexual lover, at a time when gay sex was as much an executable offense as murder), but Rogers pinned the crime on a dead accomplice in order to blackmail the real killer into spying for the British.

That was fun, but along the way Turn didn’t do much to develop what are supposed to be its main characters and storylines.  Abe remains a thin protagonist, and the show didn’t make his romantic life any more interesting by depicting Abe’s wife Mary (Meegan Warner) as a religious scold.  Ben and Caleb tried to beat and/or trick Simcoe, whom they’d captured at last week’s ambush, into providing information (we were probably meant to see parallels with post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation”) to no avail, and we learned little more about those colonists than that Ben is more measured and Caleb more impulsive.  Meanwhile, Major Andre recruited an actress he slept with to be a British spy, although it was very likely that at least one of them was double-crossing the other.

Turn is agreeable enough to watch, but so far there’s nothing very compelling about it, from its portrait of Revolutionary War life to its spy plotting.  The show is neither interestingly revisionist nor an exciting down the middle action-adventure, and aside from Macfadyen’s performance, it’s mostly blah.  So were its ratings in its debut, and with most of its run airing directly against Game of Thrones, its war isn’t going to get any easier.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else is On…

PILOT + 1:  If The Real Revolution Were This Unengaging, We’d Still Think Football Was Soccer

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."