I think most will agree that AMC makes more hits than misses. While there have been some shows that didn’t take off, like Low Winter Sun and Rubicon, the network has also given us Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead. The latest original series, TURN, which premieres this weekend, is somewhere in the middle. It’s sort of like Hell on Wheels, a series that AMC keeps running without the high profile of the others, but in a different time period.
The protagonist of TURN is Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot, The Adventures of Tintin), a principled farmer who is trying to stay out of the Revolutionary War, circa 1778. Unfortunately, deeply in debt to his ex-fiancee, Anna’s (Heather Lind, Boardwalk Empire), current husband, Abe decides to smuggle some cabbages up to Connecticut. His contact, Caleb (Daniel Henshall, Out of the Blue), is a rebel solider, and it isn’t long before Abe’s misdeeds are used to force him into spying against the British.
It’s odd that the main character is supposed to be this wholly good man, and yet he breaks the law almost as soon as we meet him. He is also deeply against borrowing money, or so he insists, and yet he takes it from someone he doesn’t like or trust. These inconsistencies in the lead make the whole structure of the show feel shaky, and it’s hard to figure out how this person is supposed to be, nor really feel motivated to solve the puzzle.
That might be OK if there were other interesting characters to make up for, and distract from, Abe, but there really aren’t. Or, if there are, they have not been firmly established in the first episode. Like Hell on Wheels, I find TURN hard to get into because I’m not finding that person or persons to identify with or fall under the spell of. Without this window or hook, it makes getting into the new show quite difficult.
The most interesting pair on TURN, who come the closest to meeting this criteria, are Richard Woodhull (Kevin McNally, Pirates of the Caribbean), Abe’s father, the local magistrate, and Major Hewlett (Burn Gorman, Torchwood, The Hour), the commander of the British garrison in town. One is a loyal subject of the crown and the other kind of is, but is colonial-based. Both are cultured and toe the line as proper gentlemen do, but they also are willing to find the loopholes when it suits them and to keep the peace. They make an interesting pair, pragmatic if stodgy, but because they are at odds with Abe’s new activities, they are doomed to be cast as villains, which they should not be.
Richard Woodhull is the portrait of a man who likely didn’t come out of the revolution too well. He is American, but he doesn’t see himself that way. The ties with his younger relations will hurt, not help, his position. He’s technically right in his stances, at least from his justifiable perspective, but against the tide of history. It’s a shame he is highly unlikely to be developed the way he should be going forward, as a sympathetic individual in a tough position. What Richard says near the end of the first hour all but guarantees him taking on a different role.
The rest of the ensemble are all pretty forgettable, at least in the pilot. Meegan Warner (Portend) plays Mary, Abe’s wife and mother of his one-year old son, who isn’t nearly as in sync with Abe as Anna is, and so stuck on the outside of the plot. Seth Numrich (Gravity), Samuel Roukin (Bright Star), JJ Feild (Captain America), and Angus Macfadyen (Braveheart, Chuck) are Ben Tallmadge, John Graves Simcoe, John Andre, and Robert Rogers, respectively, all soldiers for the two sides, the pieces of the game that will play out, all looking pretty expendable at this point, though Roger is the least easily replaced, so probably the safest.
In all, TURN could be really good, it’s certainly not bad, but it doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot. It’s a middling effort for AMC, one that could get a few seasons, but not one likely to garner the awards and praise others on the network have earned. I wouldn’t say it comes highly recommended, but it’s not a waste of time, either.
TURN airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.