Review: Crusoe 1×1-1×2

Shiver my timbers


In the US: Fridays, 9/8c, NBC

Setting’s very important to a story. Stick Crusoe on Saturday evening in a teatime slot in the UK and it would be a whole load of family fun. Sure, the purists would be complaining that this adaptation of Robinson Crusoe plays extremely fast and loose with the book – and indeed starts halfway through it – and seems to have been crossed with Pirates of the Caribbean and The Admirable Crichton along the way.

But this is a post-Merlin age and we’d have been quite happy with a big budget escapist bit of tatt that might at least get a couple of kids reading books and thinking about history and issues.

However, it’s not going out on Saturday night ITV1. It’s Friday night NBC fun in the US. They’re aiming it at adults, the fools. That’s never going to work.

From Power, Muse and Moonlighting Films comes an ambitious adaptation of Daniel Defoe’s masterpiece, “Crusoe,” a new primetime series for a 21st Century audience. Following the novel and its treasured tale of adventure, this high-action, fast-paced, thirteen-part series will combine for the first time the pace and energy of network television while remaining faithful to the author’s original classic story.

The drama explores the perils and challenges facing the world’s most famous castaway as Crusoe (Philip Winchester, “Flyboys,” “Thunderbirds”) and his native friend Friday (Tongayi Chirisa) struggle to survive on a desert island with little more than their wits. Overcoming marauding militias, hungry cannibals, wild cats, starvation and apocalyptic lightning storms, Crusoe dreams of the day he will be reunited with his beloved family.

Allowed to develop away from the bonds of 17th Century life, the ingenious Crusoe builds a breathtaking and altogether modern home high up in the trees to elude his enemies. Friday and Crusoe’s deep friendship is pushed to the limit as opportunities to escape their island paradise, and the people they meet there, consistently challenge them to choose between loyalty and freedom.

As the series develops, the love story between Crusoe and his wife Susannah (Anna Walton, “The Mutant Chronicles,” “Hell Boy II: The Golden Army”) left behind in England will unfold from meeting to marriage, as will his relationship with his mentor and patron, the mysterious Jeremiah Blackthorn (Sam Neill, “The Tudors,” “Jurassic Park”).

“Crusoe” is being executive produced by Justin Bodle for Power, Jeff Hayes for Bluewater Productions, Michael Prupas for Muse, Genevieve Hofmeyr and Phillip Key for Moonlighting and Stephen Greenberg and Jean Bureau for Incendo Productions.

Is it any good?
On the one hand, I feel I should be flying the flag of patriotism for this show. It’s the first time in 40 years (allegedly) that a US network has gone directly to a British production company directly and asked it to make a show. Crusoe has a predominantly British cast – although since he has an amazing sixth sense that enables him to smell international co-production funding at anything up to 6,000 miles’ distance, Sam Neill’s in it, too. All the flashback scenes are filmed in York. And it’s written by British people, too.

But for a primetime US show aimed at adults – and obviously we’re also living in a post-Knight Rider remake age – it’s a bit daft.

Essentially, Crusoe is all about the japes and fun a shipwrecked Englishman and a bright ‘savage’ (who can speak 13 languages, etc) can have together on an 18th century desert island when facing Spaniards, pirates, girl pirates, and other assorted fairground ride attractions, while living it up in a Heath-Robinson-esque tree house of tomorrow together.

So there’s lots of sword-fighting, bizarre inventions, people going ‘arr’, running through jungles, Crusoe taking his shirt off to show off his pecs, etc.

To convince people this isn’t really just like one of those 1950s ITC shows of admirably bad quality and minimal literary input (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, The Buccaneers, Sir Francis Drake), interspersed throughout are Crusoe’s flashbacks to a normal life back in England, with his wife, Sean Bean (as Crusoe’s dad!) and Sam Neill. These are all very, very worthy, anachronistic, etc, just as you’d expect, but do at least break-up the scenes with the Johnny Depp impersonators.

Everything’s slightly painful but not too awful, as you might expect given that Steven Gallagher, creator of The Eleventh Hour is behind it all. Winchester and Chirisa are acceptable enough leads, although aren’t especially charismatic. The action’s good, but not especially engrossing, since there’s no real depth to it.

For adult television, it leaves a lot to be desired. Watch it with the kids and it’ll probably be okay though.

Here’s a YouTube promo


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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