Monday, June 9, 2014


Hey, I like a good pirate yarn as much as the next girl—and considerably more than most. And a successful pirate series could only bode well for Alias Hook.

But NBC's much ballyhooed Crossbones is sinking fast.

First the good news: it's not aimed at kids. And it doesn't have zombies, which has become distressingly de riguer in the genre since the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

But it doesn't have much in the way of, you know, pirates either. In the opening five minutes or so of the first episodes, pirates board and plunder a ship at sea, but the rest of the action so far has been confined to an island. Sure, plots and counter-plots unfold, but where's the swashbuckling? Where's the yo-ho-ho-ing? Where's the adventure on the high seas?
A tough death to fake

The show's main pirate is Blackbeard, but this is the old rogue in retirement, his trademark mane snowy and neatly coifed and trimmed. (Although he keeps his original moniker, "White Goatee" lacking a little something in oomph.)

I even kind of like the idea that Blackbeard has faked his own death and gone underground to rule his own little pirate island kingdom, unmolested by the Royal Navy.

But anyone who knows her pirate history knows that the real Blackbeard, Edward Teach, died spectacularly in front of numerous witnesses, on board his own ship in a pitched battle with Lt. Robert Maynard. Like Rasputin, he was hard to kill; five pistol balls and twenty sword cuts were found in his body after he finally keeled over, and, for good measure, his head was chopped off and hung from a yard on Maynard's ship.
Dueling Blackbeards: Malkovich

So, not the kind of mystery-shrouded demise from which he might have rolled over with a nod and a wink when no one was looking and slunk away. Even if you go in for the imposter theory, who else but the maniacal Teach could have lasted that long in combat?

Then there’s Blackbeard himself, as played by John Malkovich. He can be a marvelous actor, and he has a swell time gobbling the scenery here, but I don’t think Malkovich would be anybody’s first choice for a swashbuckling pirate—especially not with whatever strange accent he uses here. And especially not the way he spends all his time swanning around the island in a white djellaba instead of out there on the deck of a pirate ship. He has moments of loony menace, but he lacks a certain robustness.
Dueling Blackbeards: Jackman

(As a point of comparison, here's Hugh Jackman in sword training to portray Blackbeard in a new live-action Peter Pan movie coming out next year. (What's Blackbeard doing in a Peter Pan movie? Well, that's another blog.) He looks more piratical in sweats than Malkovich has managed in two hours of screen time so far.)

The wheezy plot revolves around a fancy ship's chronometer en route to London that the pirates steal. The nominal hero is ship's doctor, Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle), who's really a British spy trying to keep the device out of the pirates' clutches, and who becomes Teach's prisoner.

 Coyle works hard and lands the occasional deadpan wisecrack, but—hello!—he's NOT A PIRATE! He's the enemy of the pirates, so what fun is that?

The island is home to the usual scurvy dogs and a surprising collection of nubile women. (Borrowing a page from Game of Thrones, the community boasts its own brothel, but, unlike GoT, everyone keeps their clothes on even in mid-clinch. This is network TV, after all.) But there's not really anyone in the cast worth caring about.

No, wait, I did like one character, the black woman pirate (Tracy Ifeachor) who’s the first to board the king’s ship at the beginning. But she’s quickly relegated to the status of bit player, with only a few lines of dialogue. Too bad. I wish they’d write a story about HER!

Years and years ago, there was a TV show in syndication called Queen of Swords. It was like a female Zorro in old California, an aristocrat’s daughter by day, but a crusading swordswoman for the downtrodden at night.

It was all a load of hooey, but cheeky enough in its silliness to be entertaining. It had a level of pizzazz I fear Crossbones will never attain.

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