TV: 'Turn' / 'Silicon Valley' / 'Veep' Spies, geeks and wannabes
AMC, fresh off another record-breaking season finale of "The Walking Dead" and a week away from the Season 7 launch of "Mad Men," splits the considerable difference between zombies and ‘60s admen on Sunday with "Turn," a historical drama about a group of men and women who spied for George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
"Turn" is rooted in history, with characters drawn from the pages of Alexander Rose’s Washington’s "Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring."
Its approach suggests that we’ve always been a nation of spies and the spied-upon, and that our freedom was won, in part, through torture and treachery.
I just wish that its 90-minute premiere was a tad more entertaining, because I found a lot to like in two subsequent episodes.
But when your competition includes HBO’s returning "Game of Thrones" and ABC’s back-from-the-dead drama "Resurrection," powdered wigs and homespun petticoats take you only so far.
Sunday’s premiere introduces us to Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell), a struggling farmer whose father, a judge (Kevin R. McNally), is working hand in hand with leaders of the British troops quartered in their Long Island town.
When Abraham’s caught smuggling by Washington’s forces, he’s briefly imprisoned, then coerced into becoming a spy.
There’s more than a suggestion that Woodhull, who’s married in the show but who was still single at this point, may carry a torch for Anna Strong (Heather Lind), whose family has Patriot sympathies and who’ll become, along with Woodhull, part of the Culper Ring of spies.
The true strength of "Turn," though, isn’t in any awkward, abortive romance but in the pictures it paints of real people under pressure, sometimes doing the wrong things for the right reasons and having no way of knowing how it would all turn out.
"Silicon Valley," a new comedy about programmers trying to make it big in a world where unimaginable fortune may be only an app away, is both smart and funny, making it the perfect pairing with the returning "Veep," which it precedes.
Back in the ‘80s, before he created "Beavis and Butt-head" and "King of the Hill," Mike Judge did a stint as a programmer in a Silicon Valley startup, and that experience shows in "Silicon Valley" in the way he treats his lead character, Richard (Thomas Middleditch).
It’s easy to lampoon the Google-wannabe companies with which Richard and his fellow coders (played by Josh Brener, Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani) must contend. It’s harder to show viewers, who might not care how their smartphones got so smart, what exactly all that money’s going for.
There’s plenty of silliness in "Silicon Valley," much of it provided by T.J. Miller, who plays a dot-com millionaire who must have gotten lucky, because while he’s smart enough to demand 10 percent from the inhabitants of his hacker incubator / hostel, he hardly seems capable of more original thought.
Richard, though, is the real deal: Talented and timorous, he’s trying hard not to become a jerk in a situation where jerk is a default setting.
It’s probably too late for Vice President Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), whose prospects -- and show, "Veep" -- get a huge boost this season from the still-unseen president’s decision not to run for re-election.
Whether she’s wooing Iowa voters by signing a book she may not have fully read, much less written, or behaving ruthlessly to her (mostly) loyal staff, Selina’s always going to be No. 1 with Selina.
Adding to the fun this season: Kathy Najimy, as the new bride of press secretary Mike McClintock (Matt Walsh); and a new and wonderfully disruptive role for obnoxious White House liaison Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons).
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.