Cloak-and-dagger with redcoats and bayonets set against the backdrop of the Revolutionary War, Turn is The Americans for those who might find the KGB-in-the-USA saga a bit too…well, un-American. Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) is a strong, appealing center as Abe Woodhull, a farmer recruited by childhood pals to spy on the Brits. Together they form the fabled Culper Ring — with members drawn from history, like bar owner Anna Strong (Heather Lind), who sends messages with cleverly hung laundry.
Turn tries to create emotional resonance by making the spy stuff as personal as possible. Abe’s father (Kevin McNally) is a wealthy magistrate so worried about his troubled son that he makes him a partner in his business selling goods to the British army. That puts Abe in a position to acquire intel — and puts his family in jeopardy. While Abe’s heart belongs to Anna, his hand belongs to Mary (Meegan Warner) through an arranged marriage. His honor has led to double lives and moral murk; he might lose the war with himself before the colonists win the war with the British.
Everything in Turn is good enough; everything could be better; none of it can match the complexity of The Americans, or the smarts of AMC’s last attempt at espionage pop, Rubicon. Provocative ideas are hit upon — torture, homosexuality, politics — but not deeply enough. With a richer depiction of Revolution-era culture — and more inventive spy-game fun — Turn could keep us loyal to the cause of watching. B