When American rebels declared war against the British crown in 1776, it didn't take long before the Redcoats were kicking the colonists' butts all over the East Coast. Gen. George Washington needed a leg up, and he found it in a group of spies called the Culper Ring.
That's the basis of AMC's based-on-fact period drama "Turn" (8 p.m. Sunday, AMC; 3 stars out of 4), which reveals a more intimate, personal side of the brutal Revolutionary War than we learned in History class.
"Turn" easily could have been that classic good-versus-evil story. But showrunner Craig Silverstein, who developed the series from Alexander Rose's book "Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring," muddies the waters to show a complicated landscape where friends, colleagues and even family members grew distrustful of each other's allegiances.
"Who is the enemy?" asks Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell), a young cabbage farmer and father who resists getting caught up in all the colonial chaos.
The invading Brits, obviously, are the enemies here, the worst of them being the deliciously sadistic Captain Simcoe. Played with relish by Samuel Roukin, Simcoe is a love-to-hate-him kind of villain. Among several "good" American folks stands heroic Ben Talmadge (Seth Numrich), an officer in the continental army who urges his superiors to use spies.
Planted not so firmly between these two sides is Abe. His father, Judge Richard Woodhull (Kevin McNally), is a regular dinner guest of the local British commander, Major Hewlett (Burn Gorman). Abe's sympathies lie with the rebels, but he follows the wishes of his wife, Mary (Meegan Warner), to stay out of the conflict.
"What are you waiting for?" asks his former love, rebel sympathizer Anna Strong (Heather Lind). "What more do they need to take from us?"
Bell projects the anxiety of a man reluctant to lead the double life of a spy, but moved to do so by his own standards of right and wrong. Abe's an appealing everyman who is easy to support.
I hope viewers support "Turn," which has the unenviable task of sharing a time slot with HBO's "Game of Thrones." It may not be as intriguing as "Thrones" or as tense as FX's spy thriller "The Americans," but "Turn"—which touches on still-relevant topics like torture, homosexuality and politics—offers a fresh spin on the War of Independence.
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