by Ron Wynn
AMC has had pretty good luck with period pieces. They've had one huge hit (Mad Men) and another erratic but decently performing program (Hell On Wheels, which returns this summer). Now it's turning to an era seldom tapped for episodic fare, the Revolutionary War.
The new hour-long show Turn, which debuts 8 p.m. next Sunday, April 6 with a 90-minute pilot episode, spotlights a group of childhood friends considered the first spy ring created by Americans in the late 18th century.
Historian Alexander Rose's 2006 book Washington's Spies examined the exploits of the Culper Ring, a foursome whose exploits paved the way for the creation of intelligence agencies decades later. But Turn won't be a spoof or outlandish fantasy like The Wild Wild West (admittedly a great show in its heyday). Instead, executive producer Craig Silverstein — also the co-producer (with Barry Josephson) of Fox's long-running Bones — told Hopper Magazine that Turn will accurately spotlight the Culper Ring's role in developing espionage campaigns during wartime.
"Aliases, cover stories, dead drops, the idea of a black budget, a lot of cryptography — these things were invented by the Culper Ring, but out of necessity, not because they came in as experts and knew what they were doing," Silverstein said.
In the opener, Abe Woodhull (British actor Jamie Bell) is an unhappy cabbage farmer, raising a son in an equally unhappy marriage. His Loyalist father ruined his plans to marry childhood sweetheart Anna Strong (Heather Lind). who's also a Patriot.
Woodhull's friend Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numnch) went to Yale with Nathan Hale, then just missed becoming a war victim when his regiment was otherwise massacred. Tallmadge is convinced the American army's tactics are far too predictable, plus they lack resources. In addition, he considers them infiltrated by Loyalists and Tories.
Deciding to fight fire with fire,Tallmadge recruits another childhood friend Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) and makes plans to eventually add Woodhull and Strong. Soon they've renamed themselves the Culper Ring and started implementing plans to turn around the war effort, while concealing their identities and plans from most of their other friends and family.
Turn has the potential to become another breakout show for AMC. Considering the popularity of other spy yarns over the years, if well conceived and executed it may attract fans of both espionage vehicles and historical fare.
From the Hills to the Valley
HBO's latest venture into the comedy arena veers into the tech world. Silicon Valley also debuts next Sunday (9 p.m.) and is another period piece, although its time frame is the distant 20th century.
The show is actually a homage to the years animated producing kingpin Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill) spent working as an engineer in Silicon Valley. (Judge has a degree in physics.) Socially awkward computer programmer Richard (Thomas Middleditch) lives with three buddies in the home of oddball millionaire Erlich (T.J. Miller). His dream is to start his own business. While he's trying to fulfill that goal, Richard has pledged that 10 percent of any profits he and/or his buddies enjoy will go to Erlich.
Everything seems fine until Richard, who's far more proficient at his job than away from it, develops a search algorithm that could revolutionize the computer industry. It also generates interest from other sources, including some who might outbid his host. Richard's ongoing conflict between unimagined profits and previously expressed ethics will be a major theme, though things will be played for laughs rather than dramatic impact. The trailers fondly echo the corporate milieu of Judge's cult movie Office Space — though it'll be fun to see how much farther he can go with HBO's thematic freedom and loosened reins.
CBS's The Big Bang Theory has proven that poking fun at geek culture can draw big audiences. We'll see if the same holds true for satirizing those who were on the ground floor of the dot-com boom.
Ratings winners and losers
ABC's Resurrection continues to narrowly win the 8 p.m. Sunday wars over CBS's The Good Wife and NBC's Believe, which apparently not many people do. CBS still hasn't found a drama at 9 p.m. Mondays to hold its own against ABC's Castle and NBC's The Blacklist. Intelligence ended its first (and possibly only) season Monday night firmly in third place.
Perhaps the question to ask in the wake of Fox canning the show Raising Hope after four years was how many people knew it had been on that long? The finale airs 8 p.m. April 4 on WZTV-Channel 17 with two episodes constituting a 60-minute sendoff. Kenny Loggins has a musical number in the second episode for those interested.
Another show ending a four-year run is Syfy's Being Human, which airs its finale 8 p.m. April 7. New episodes of CBS's wishfully named Unforgettable begin 7 p.m. Friday.