Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Turn: Washington's Spies

Since we don't have cable TV and I don't really keep up with what's on most of the time, I hadn't heard of this series until Livia bought the first season on DVD, thinking it sounded like something we'd enjoy. Well, I mostly did, with a few reservations.

TURN: WASHINGTON'S SPIES is very much what it sounds like, a historical drama series about the formation of the Culper Ring, the espionage network set up by George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Since I covered some of the same ground in my BCI series PATRIOTS, there was an unavoidable feeling of "Been there, wrote that" while watching this series. That's not the fault of the series, of course, but I also felt like the early episodes were very slow to develop and not all that compelling. It doesn't help matters that the protagonist, farmer and ostensible Tory loyalist Abraham Woodhull (played by Jamie Bell) is a pretty bland and unlikable character.

Things pick up as the series moves along, though, mainly because the villains become more interesting than the heroes. Angus Macfadyen plays Robert Rogers (yeah, the guy from Kenneth Roberts' novel NORTHWEST PASSAGE, played by Spencer Tracy in the movie of the same name), the leader of the Queen's Rangers, as a vengeful, hard-drinking version of Natty Bumppo, complete with Indian sidekick. And Samuel Roukin gives a sneering, hammy, over-the-top performance as the Redcoat captain who's Woodhull's nemesis. Daniel Henshall is pretty good as one of the spies, too.

TURN manages to generate a considerable amount of suspense in some of the later episodes, and I wound up enjoying it overall. The history seems reasonably accurate, the production values are excellent, and it's good enough that I'll probably watch the second season when it comes out on DVD, although I won't be waiting impatiently for it.


Brian Drake said...

I just started watching this myself, James. I'm enjoying it so far, but the biggest problem is that they don't identify some characters right away, or very well, so I've been left wondering who is who. Either that or I'm going deaf, which is highly probable.

Can you tell us more about the series you wrote? I'd like to track that down.

James Reasoner said...

Brian, PATRIOTS was a six-book series of historical novels published by Bantam under the name Adam Rutledge during the early Nineties. The storylines follow a group of friends from the Boston Tea Party to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. One of them becomes involved in espionage. It was a fun series to write, very much a historical soap opera.

Brian Drake said...

I'll look for it!

Todd Mason said...

The few attempts I made to watch the series let me unengaged, so I hadn't given the later episodes much of a shot at all...and even the title itself (just TURN though the first season of cablecast) seemed Off enough to reinforce the idea they didn't have a handle on this work. But having written similar work would certainly give one an incentive to see how the others might approach it, and I'm glad it wasn't a complete pudding.

James Reasoner said...

I think the title's kind of dumb, too. Calling it just WASHINGTON'S SPIES would have been better.

Todd Mason said...

They probably thought of something like REDCOATS, TURNCOATS, and then decided no one would Get that.