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Turn: Washington's Spies
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Turn is a historical drama set in 1776, during the early years of the Revolutionary War. Violence tends toward the graphic and realistic, with shootings, stabbings, beatings, and spurting blood. As for sex, it isn't constant, but it's strongly suggested in most episodes with passionate kissing, partial nudity, and some love scenes that leave little to the imagination. Language is generally tame (think "hell" and "damn" and, one time, "tits"), and characters drink socially, sometimes to excess.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
When the rebel Americans serving under General George Washington need a "man on the inside" to help them spy on British forces during the Revolutionary War, unassuming cabbage farmer Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) becomes an unlikely hero as part of America's first spy ring. But deciding to TURN against his colonial government -- and his loyalist father (Kevin McNally) -- puts everything Abe has worked for at risk.
Is it any good?
Based on Alexander Rose's nonfiction book Washington's Spies, which charts the creation of America's first spy ring, Turn gets points for bringing history to the small screen and shedding light on a little-known benchmark in American espionage. (The show's opening credits -- with animation that mimics the look of hand-cut silhouette art and music by the National's Matt Berninger and the Civil Wars' Joy Williams -- also are a compelling highlight.) But the thrill will be gone for some not long after the series gets going, thanks to a slow-building story and characters who take their time giving us reason to root for them. Still, the show’s die-hard fans know it does get better, even buzzworthy, if you just give it time.
On the surface, Turn seems like a great way to learn something about American history in a format that’s far more appealing than a textbook. But parents hoping to use it as a learning tool for older teens might want to think twice, given its graphic visuals and suggestive sex that skirts the line of age-appropriateness. We also wish the show's female characters -- to say nothing of people of color, who are mostly shown doing menial tasks for white characters -- contributed more to the story than subplots and supportive lines.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Turn's take on the Revolutionary War and whether that portrayal seems accurate or exaggerated. Which elements contribute to a sense of realism? (Think about violence and costuming, for example.) How does the show compare with what you know to be true about the American colonies during that time?
How does Turn's title foreshadow the central conflicts of the series? How many levels of meaning does the word "turn" have in relation to the show's plot and characters?
How much screen time does the series give to women and minorities? Does their limited presence mirror the realities of the time period, and does that make the show's lack of diversity OK?
Themes & Topics
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For kids who love history
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.