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Crossbones – First Impressions

I‘ve said it before and I will say it again. I love pirates. I have ever since I was a kid. The problem is that I fell in love with pirates through movies. When I was a kid, I bet I watched Treasure Island and Shipwrecked a hundred times each. Everybody loves Peter Pan and the live-action Hook. And over the past decade, Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies has made us fall in love with pirates all over again. But pirates have never, until recently, been a story that has been explored on TV. The only example I can even remember is The Pirates of Darkwater cartoon from when I was a kid. Not exactly a historical drama. Earlier this year, Starz introduced us to Black Sails. And while the show was pretty good, and showed a ton of potential by the end, I would be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t a bit disappointed by it. Turns out, you need a really good story going on, or sometimes it just gets really boring. Now NBC has debuted the long awaited Crossbones. Can it renew my hope for a great pirate TV show? After the first episode, I’m at least hopeful.

Crossbones focuses on the life of the infamous¬†pirate captain Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. The story takes place in the town of New Providence in the Bahamas. This is at the height of the golden age of piracy and during the middle of The War of the Spanish Succession. At this time, Blackbeard has already become legendary and it believed by many to be dead. In truth, he has taken a leadership position, now referring to himself as commodore, in New Providence and is working towards creating an independent pirate nation. At the same time, The British, who controlled around 1/5 of the world and had one of the largest and most feared navies in history at that time, have commissioned the creation of a naval navigation device and are offering a “prince’s fortune” to whoever can build one that would offer precise navigation of the seas. We pick up in the story in episode one, “Devil’s Dominion” just after such a device has been created, and naturally the British are not the only ones after this device. It turns out, not everyone in command for the British believes that Blackbeard is dead. Tom Lowe, our other main character and a British doctor and spy, is sent to protect the device on it’s way to British command and if Blackbeard makes a move to steal it, his secret mission is to assassinate Blackbeard. Naturally, Blackbeard does indeed make a move on the ship carrying the device. Lowe destroys it and memorizes the cipher for how to build and decrypt the device. Taken into custody and brought before Commodore Blackbeard, Lowe is surprised to find himself admiring Blackbeard, yet he moves to carry out his mission. He poisons Blackbeard and moves to escape. As he is about to get away, he finds that the pirates are secretly meeting with the Spanish. Knowing this may prove to be an even bigger threat and that he must find out more, he saves Blackbeard’s life and secures his confidence and a place within his inner circle.

Lowe destroying the cipher

Lowe destroying the cipher

I have to admit, I had my doubts about Crossbones coming in. My worry was that it was on NBC, and I didn’t know if a major network could properly create an atmosphere to fully immerse us in a pirate’s world. Not to mention the fact that NBC dramas outside of procedurals haven’t always proven to be the best, and most are downright cheesy. A world of pirates needs to be harsh, with lot’s of violence and anarchy. But if I learned anything from Black Sails earlier this year, that type of atmosphere isn’t enough. Black Sails had plenty of violence and gore and nudity in almost every episode. Yet I often found myself bored for long stretches of the show. Crossbones has surprised me so far. While obviously toned down from what Black Sails was, NBC has done a great job of creating a believable atmosphere. While obviously no nudity, they are still able to show New Providence as a risque place as a staunch opposite to the uptight British. The action and violence were surprisingly good, with the fact that the show airs at 10 on Friday nights obviously helping that. Sure there are some cheesy moments, but show me one gimmick network drama that isn’t at times. Like I said earlier, what has to drive this show is an engaging stories and good characters, and at least in the first episode, Crossbones has both.

okay, there are a few cheesy moments

okay, there are a few cheesy moments

The acting on Crossbones is about what you expect from a network drama. I found both the leads to be quite good, with the supporting cast ranging from passable to awful. John Malkovich was obviously the big name attached to this show. When I first heard that he was playing Blackbeard, I wasn’t sure what to think. On one hand, I love John Malkovich. He is an amazingly talented actor. However, I was just having trouble seeing him play a pirate. To my surprise, he is wonderful as Blackbeard. My only complaint would be is that sometimes he can come across a bit over the top and goofy. There are some bad scenes and dialogue from time to time and I think he overacts on purpose. There is a scene where he sees a ghost that is so bad that he made me laugh, so I guess that’s a good thing. The other lead, Tom Lowe, is played by Richard Coyle. Coyle is the one that sold me on this show. He goes toe to toe with Malkovich in the acting department and it’s great. It brings a certain seriousness that was much needed in Crossbones. As for the rest, there is much left to be desired. There are some supporting cast members that are pretty good. Claire Foy is particularly good as Kate Balfour. Yet, for most of the rest of the cast, either there weren’t enough lines for them yet to stand out in any way, or they were pretty awful. Lowe’s faithful apprentice stands out as being particularly bad. However, most of the screen time is spent with our leads and it is more that passable enough to carry a network show.

Malkovich and Coyle have great chemistry together on screen

Malkovich and Coyle have great chemistry together on screen

Overall, I would recommend watching Crossbones based on the first episode. Could it go downhill from here? Sure. Many shows have this year. But the premise is solid and the story is engaging. They seem to have a clear idea of where they want the story to head already and it’s intriguing, compared to Black Sails that took a long time for the story to really catch on. Hopefully the timeslot won’t hurt the show. Fridays at 10 isn’t exactly the most desirable slot. Crossbones was supposed to be a mid-season premier and have Grimm as it’s lead in. Unfortunately it had to be delayed and now it is in a bad timeslot in the worst part of the year for TV. It’s debut numbers were okay, so hopefully it can trend up from here. I for one, know that I will be watching.

've said it before and I will say it again. I love pirates. I have ever since I was a kid. The problem is that I fell in love with pirates through movies. When I was a kid, I bet I watched Treasure Island and Shipwrecked a hundred times each. Everybody loves Peter Pan and the live-action Hook. And over the past decade, Johnny Depp's portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies has made us fall in love with pirates all over again. But pirates have never, until recently, been a story that has been…

Review Overview

Crossbones - First Impressions - 7

7

Good

Summary : Crossbones is good pirate show with a lot of potential. The show does a great job of immersing you in the world of pirates despite having to deal with the restrictions of being a major network show. Despite some cheesy dialogue and a bad supporting cast, the story is solid and the acting of Malkovich and Coyle are stellar.

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About Evan Swafford

Evan Swafford
Evan is a semi reluctant insomniac, who has used his extra time to watch way more TV than is healthy for a normal human being. All his other time is devoted to movies, gaming, and being a sports fanatic and stat geek. Evan has a degree from MTSU in Electronic Media Journalism which he now uses to grow some of the best trees and shrubs money can buy. You can hear his useless knowledge every week on the Free For All podcast.