[This is a review of the TURN series premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
Just one week after The Walking Dead season 4 finale, AMC shows off its latest wares with a period drama, entitled TURN. Accomplished film actor Jamie Bell (Fantastic Four) does his best to elevate this rather ordinary Revolutionary War tale about “America’s first spy ring.”
With the highly-acclaimed Breaking Bad series at an end, and Mad Men entering Part 1 of its final season, AMC is in desperate need of new original programming. TURN looks to fill that gap, but airing the premiere on the same night as HBO’s Game of Thrones may have a negative impact in terms of viewership for this new venture. It is perhaps unfair to compare a historically-based drama to an epic fantasy, but when the social media arena is ablaze with talk of dragons and white walkers, how can TURN stand out amongst the cacophony of noises?
The problematic nature of TURN does not arise from its absence of fantastical creatures and places, but from the lack of any kind of charisma from its leading cast. Jamie Bell, who is a fine actor in his own right, plays Abraham (Abe) Woodhull, son of a local judge who has great influence with the British military. Talk of rebellion against the British crown is far from Abe’s mind; the young man wishes to be left to his family and cabbage fields. After a confrontation at a local tavern with British troops, everything in the simple farmer’s life changes for the worst (or better, depending on one’s point of view).
TURN’s nearly 90-minute pilot takes the viewer to a point he or she already knows is coming. A great spy film or novel needs to have suspense, which is another element this show lacks. Again, this is not to take anything away from the cast, but not one of the ensemble is given a moment to shine. Bell does not have to be the center of everything – like HBO’s The Wire proved, a drama can revolve around a plethora of interesting characters without having “the man/woman of the hour.” AMC, however, seemingly desires for Abraham to be the focal point. His complicated relationship with his father (Richard Woodhull) portrayed by the talented Kevin McNally (Pirates of the Caribbean) has the potential for a good narrative about a son who wants to be accepted by his father, but cares for his friends as well.
Since his childhood friend Ben Talmadge (Seth Numrich) and his long time love Anna Strong (Heather Lind) are with the rebels, Abe’s loyalties are divided. What is a conflicted young man with a wife and son to do? All of these dramatic tropes set in a backdrop of Revolution in 1776 could turn into something special for a network looking for new blood, but the premiere wears a familiar garb, unable to stand out in a television landscape riddled with quality programming.
In all fairness, TURN is still in its infancy. Some shows – like Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer – take time to grow and find their own way. The series is not lacking in talent, and director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) sets a beautiful template for Revolutionary times in America’s Northeast. Jamie Bell has the charisma needed to lead, but will the writers be able to give him something substantial to work with as this season progresses? Only time will tell.
What did you think of AMC’s TURN? As far as the spy genre goes, was this thrilling enough for you, or does this series still have some work ahead of it? Keep watching to discover the secrets behind one of America’s greatest conflicts.
TURN continues with ‘Who by Fire’ next Sunday @9pm on AMC. You can check out a preview of next week’s episode below: