Third-episode verdict: Crossbones (NBC)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, NBC

Were Crossbones, Neil Cross’s (Luther) moderately ahistorical adaptation of the story of famous pirate Blackbeard, happily ensconced in the Saturday teatime slot, it would probably be the best Saturday teatime adventure fare for a long, long time. While the show plays more than a little bit fast and loose with history, has a somewhat Pirates of the Caribbean attitude towards a bunch of thieves, rapists, kidnappers and murderers, and forsakes plausibility and great acting in favour of ghostly visions and John Malkovich with spikes in his head and the strangest accent you ever did hear coming from his mouth, the show is at least fun (unlike Black Sails), remembers in the second half of every episode to have some swashbuckling, looks good and is a bit smarter than you might have been expecting.

Except this is a 10/9c show. It’s aimed at adults. And for that, it’s a little too silly. Yet it doesn’t truly realise it. Except for Malkovich of course.

Since its first episode, the show has moved on from being Heart of Darkness with pirates and has in fact pretty much forgotten why it ever sent Richard Coyle to try to kill the dread pirate Malkovich. Instead, it’s seen Coyle become an uneasy ally with Malkovich, who is part hero, part psychopath, part politician, all rolled up in a man who seems surprised that he’s being paid so much money to play at pirates in Puerto Rico.

Episode two saw Spanish submarines and, strangely enough, Malkovich’s attempts to impose an Athenian-style democracy on a nation of pirates, as well as the continuing romance between Coyle and Claire Foy’s feisty aristocrat-cum-quartermistress. Episode three gave us a slightly more pedestrian affair, with Coyle and Malkovich having to rescue Foy from the clutches of Coyle’s employer (Julian Sands being as Julian Sands as it’s possible to be). Supposedly, this was enabled through a cunning plan of Coyle’s but since it required Sands to act like he’d been dropped on his head as a baby, there’s apparently quite a low bar to pirate cunning.

It’s all jolly good fun – at least, in the second half of each episode when the show stops trying to be an actual drama, filled with not especially great attempts at character development and chessboard-like plotting, and decides to give us lots of swordfights and ships firing cannons at each other. It’s at its best when Cross bring Coyle and Malkovich together to share some decidedly above-average and knowing dialogue, at its worst whenever it tries to add depth to any of the hammier supporting characters or deal with anyone female. Historical purists will have a field day, but anyone who enjoys a Saturday tea time romp with period ships, doesn’t mind Britain’s legitimate attempts to stamp out criminality being portrayed as pure evil and wants to see how much latitude Cross and co give Malkovich will have a great 50% of the time.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Will probably make it to the end of the season and might even make it to two


  • 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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