Mini-review: Turn 1×1 (AMC)

AMC's Turn

In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, AMC

Wars should, by their very nature, be exciting. The Revolutionary War that brought about the independence of the United States of America from British rule is such a thing of mythology and eulogisation that it’s possibly one of the most exciting wars that can be discussed or depicted. And when you add in spies as well, and get some of the best British actors on TV to take part, surely you’re onto a sure-fire adrenaline fest, no?

No. Because Turn, based on the Alexander Rose novel Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, is a veritable snoozefest.

Largely, of course, this is down to its being on AMC. Although the network has had its fair share of successes – Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Walking Dead – none of them have got to where they are by packing every hour with a thrill a minute. And Turn seemingly takes great pains to do the same, without giving us sparkling dialogue or interesting characters to make the journey worthwhile.

Although the show is clearly going somewhere, the pilot episode really doesn’t give you that many reasons to go with it. Commendably avoiding the “British army were just as bad as Nazis” route trodden by The Patriot, Turn does take relative pains to be equitable to the Brits and to avoid hoary old cliches (no one says “The British are coming! The British are coming!” since most Americans still thought of themselves as British, for example).

Unfortunately, it does this by giving us a reluctant farmer (Jamie Bell) as a hero, his dodgy accented father (Kevin McNally) with a foot in both camps to talk a lot, a dull wife (Meegan Warner) and a slightly more interesting ex (Heather Lind) for Bell to pine over, and a British army officer (Burn Gorman) to pass out the law honourably in difficult times. The screen practically goes grey with boredom as soon as any of them appear. And when your TV can’t be bothered to watch what you’re watching, a show is in trouble.

Angus Macfadyen (Robert the Bruce in Braveheart) could be good fun as a Scottish mercenary-come-black ops ranger working for the Brits, if he weren’t mumbling every line, and Seth Numrich’s organiser of the Culper Spy Ring is so square-jawed and all-American-before-there-was-an-all-American that he disappears in a cloud of blandness in virtually every scene he’s in.

I dare say further down the line – maybe one season or even two seasons from now – something might have happened and the hours of TV-viewing involved will have paid off a little. But at a time when there’s just so much good TV on – hell, this is on the same night as just Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, The Good Wife and Shameless alone – I doubt many people will have accompanied it that far or that it’ll all have been worth it.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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