AMC’s ‘Turn’ fails as espionage drama, succeeds as period piece

April 4, 2014

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It would seem that spy dramas are all the rage again with FX’s “The Americans” having a stellar second season and BBC America’s “Flemming: The Man Who Would Be Bond” proving to be quite popular. This bodes well for AMC’s latest drama, “Turn,” a spy thriller set during the Revolutionary War, yet this latest spy show falls short.

The story follows Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell), a cabbage farmer living in British-occupied Long Island and trying to take care of his family while making an honest living and avoiding the war. However, being sorely in debt, he agrees to go on a mission for the Rebels.

Over the course of the pilot episode, he is recruited to reluctantly join a group of childhood friends as they form the Culper Ring — a team of spies and secret agents that helped George Washington turn the war in the Rebels’ favor.

Making matters slightly more complicated is the fact that Woodhull must work with his former childhood sweetheart Anna Strong (Heather Lind), who is married to someone else. But, as the episode goes on, it is clear that neither of them is quite over the other, a complication that will no doubt come into play as the series goes on.

As far as historical dramas go, “Turn” successfully portrays the time period, the effects of war and the stress it can place on personal relationships. Moreover, being set in wartime, the show makes a point to emphasize the violence of any and all deaths.

Unfortunately, what the show has going for it in terms of this historical detail, it lacks in the actual spying aspect of the series. Woodhull’s missions are not as thrilling or suspense-filled as expected. Instead, there is emphasis on Woodhull’s farming woes and debt worries — his reasons for becoming a part of the Ring.

The series cannot feature as many high-stakes twists as “Homeland” or as many fun gadgets as “Alias,” but “Turn” could take a page from modern-day espionage dramas and quicken the pace. This might inject some much-needed tension into Woodhull’s future missions, giving the series a jolt of momentum.

The show’s producers have made the most out of “Turn’s” period setting, stacking the cast with strong British talent. Alongside Bell’s Woodhull is Kevin McNally as Abraham’s father. Burn Gorman plays Major Hewlett, the local British commander and Angus Macfadyen is Robert Rodgers, a mercenary for hire.

In the end, despite having a solid cast and an intriguing premise, “Turn” does not prove as gripping as anticipated — something the Culper Ring’s cloaks and daggers cannot conceal.

Nivea Serrao is a staff writer. Email her at entertainment@nyunews.com.

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