Turn: Washington’s Spies – The Complete First Season (Blu-ray Review)

Turn: Washington's SpiesBased on the novel Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose, Turn: Washington’s Spies arrives as AMC’s newest cable series, which tracks the early days of espionage in the American colonies that eventually became the United States of America. The Culper Ring, led by Abe Woodhull, provided George Washington valuable information on the British Army in New York, which helped to turn the tide of the Revolutionary War. The first season of 10 episodes debuted on April 6th, 2014, with season two set to premiere on April 13th, 2015.

 Turn Washington's Spies


AMC’s historical drama series Turn: Washington’s Spies is perhaps a perfect example of a slow burn, a show that’s a bit frustrating through its first three or four episodes before the real drama starts to kick in. The show is well directed, acted, and written, yet starting with such a terrific premise, the show is more interesting than compelling, with the espionage angle never quite generating the suspense it promises.

This is a historical show, and we all know how the Revolutionary War ends, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the tension never quite reaches climatic levels. There’s a lack of being able to connect the dots as to who knows what and how it will effectively play out amongst all the shadowy dealings.

However, the second half of this first season does bode well for the future of the show, packing enough drama as it comes to a close to want at least this viewer to take a look at what season two has to offer.

Characters are numerous here, and that leads to a lack of complexity, but they are enough to drive the events of the show enough for us to care how each person interacts with the events as they unfold. Jamie Bell, best known for his starring role in Billie Elliot, is a likeable lead, donned up in clothing that makes him look as rebellious and cool as he possibly could during this period in history. And the villains, played by Braveheart’s Angus Macfadyen and Samuel Roukin, have a lot of fun with their roles.

Turn: Washington’s Spies is perhaps an odd turn for the AMC network. With the end of Breaking Bad and the final episodes of Mad Men soon approaching, the cable network seems to be aiming for more sure bets, like the Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul and the upcoming spinoff of The Walking Dead set in Los Angeles.

Turn is a far riskier endeavor, a historical drama that has a much smaller built in audience than the networks established shows and the genres that The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad belong to, and is likely a heavy expense given its period costumes and settings. It’s probably too early to judge if the gamble will pay off, but with a second season ordered and premiering next month, it appears the viewership is at least enough to continue the story. And, so far, it’s a pretty good one.

 Turn Washington's Spies


The period setting and high production values are a real draw in the presentation of this show, and Anchor Bay’s treatment in high definition does justice to AMC’s production.

  • Encoding: AVC MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect Ratio:78:1
  • Clarity/Detail: The presentation here showcases the show’s excellent production design, whether it is sets or costumes.
  • Depth: There’s a slight flatness to the way the show was shot, but the reproduction here satisfies when elements of depth are introduced.
  • Black Levels: Not 100% crisp, but fairly natural.
  • Color Reproduction: Vibrant, especially the blue and red uniforms of the opposing armies, mixed with the greens of the surrounding environments.
  • Flesh Tones: The skin tones are all natural and authentic looking throughout.
  • Noise/Artifacts: Slight, but barely noticeable.

 Turn Washington's Spies


Great use of the period setting has been made here, with several well balanced environments coming to life on the soundtrack.

  • Audio Format(s): Dolby TrueHD 5.1
  • Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
  • Dynamics: Well balanced between clean audio and score tracks.
  • Low Frequency Extension: LFE is utilized to bring balance to the presentation.
  • Surround Sound Presentation: The show features score, sound effects (rain, insects), and spoken word that finds a nice balance in the mix of this disc.
  • Dialogue Reproduction:  Spoken words were clear and intelligible.

Turn Washington's Spies


Anchor Bay Entertainment’s Blu-ray includes a UV digital copy voucher. No audio commentary are available for the first season’s 10 episodes, and the following extras are all found on disc three of the three disc set:

  • The History of Turn: Washington’s Spies (1080p, 4:47): A brief piece about Alexander Rose’s source novel and it’s adaptation to the small screen.
  • From Art to Image (1080p, 4:31): A short featurette about the film’s lofty production values and how production design, props, and costuming all breathe life into the series
  • Deleted Scenes (1080p, 24:39 total runtime): Scenes cut from the first eight episodes.

Turn Washington's Spies


Though it doesn’t push the boundaries of cable TV, or offer as riveting a spectacle as it has the opportunity to, Turn: Washington’s Spies makes for pretty decent television viewing. It takes a while to get going, but spy long enough on this intricate tale and you’ll be able to piece things together, with a show that starts to get going about four or five episodes in. If AMC can continue to build upon what the second half of season one gives us, then Turn has a lot of opportunities, even if it will never attract the viewership of The Walking Dead.

Turn: Washington's Spies


Reviewer/Actor/Director/Screenwriter, former film critic for PBS' nationally televised series Just Seen It, and an MFA graduate of USC's School of Cinematic Arts. Favorite films include ROCKY, DIE HARD, GHOSTBUSTERS, THE GODFATHER, and television shows such as TWIN PEAKS, THE X-FILES, and THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

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