Guest Post: The Revolutions in the Margins of AMC’s “Turn”

Don Johnson is a Ph.D. candidate in History at Northwestern University. His work explores how ordinary Americans experienced the major political and military events of the Revolutionary era in the course of their everyday lives, and how those experiences shaped actions and changed world-views going forward. Don’s dissertation, now nearing completion, examines the social dynamics of six port cities occupied by the British army during the Revolutionary War.

TurnThe AMC series Turn ended its first season last month with mixed reviews. The consensus seems to be that the series, which tells the story of the Culper spy ring during the American Revolution, has a strong cast, good production values, and promising subject matter but ultimately fails both as a drama and as an accurate representation of history. Popular reviews have mostly found the narrative arc slow and frustrating, while the show’s numerous departures from the historical record have inspired an entire blog devoted to separating fact from fiction. As The Junto’s Roy Rogers put it in his review of the first three episodes back in April, these narrative and historical failings made the series in large part “just another morality play—The Patriot in the guise of Mad Men.”

While Turn‘s main storyline falls far short of doing justice to the fascinating story of the Culper spies, in its background characters and neglected subplots lie many of the complex and diverse experiences of ordinary Americans. Continue reading

Turn, Turn, TURИ

I had the opportunity, over the course of Passover-Easter break, to watch the first three episodes of AMC’s new series Turn (transcribed as TURИ on subway ads).[1] The show is very much in the vein of the recent spate of high-serious historical (Mad Men) or faux-historical (Game of Thrones) dramas airing on the finer cable networks (AMC, IFC, HBO). Turn, like its sister-shows, features excellent acting and wonderful set and costume design. Unlike these other shows, however, it adapts for television a historical event that gets a lot of coverage on this blog–the American Revolution.[2] For the series AMC has turned Alexander Rose’s Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring into a tale of conflicted loyalties, love, betrayal, and waterboarding fit, some ways, for our new Golden Age of television. At the same time, much is lost in the adaptation process.

For the more spoilerphobic among our community, this essay will contain spoilers for the pilot episode of Turn.

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