'Crossbones' Review: A Fun and Thrilling Pirate Drama
'Crossbones' Review: A Fun and Thrilling Pirate Drama
Jeff Dodge
Jeff Dodge
Staff Writer, BuddyTV
It's Friday and you may be wondering what to watch tonight. If you want to sit back and watch a show that delivers plenty of drama, action and a bit of gore, while maintaining a high level of entertainment, then Crossbones is for you.

NBC's new pirate series was originally scheduled for mid-season, but was pushed to the summer. And that's a smart decision because this is a more fitting time to air the show, don't you think? Pirates and summer go together like, well, Pirates of the Caribbean and the summer movie season. Okay, that wasn't too much of a stretch, but I think you get my point.

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Crossbones, created by Luther's Neil Cross, James V. Hart and Amanda Welles and based on the book The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard, is set in 1729 on the island of Santa Compana. And who should rule there but Edward Teach -- though we know him by his more infamous name: Blackbeard. But if you're expecting a Blackbeard that lives up to his name in a literal fashion, then think again. Both the promos on TV and the series itself dispel that right away.

A quick Wikipedia search tell us that Teach lived to be only 38 years old, whereas the one on Crossbones is quite a bit older, but no less menacing. And the latter description wouldn't be as vividly depicted if it weren't for the actor cast in this role, John Malkovich. He may be more well known for his film roles, including In the Line of Fire, Places in the Heart and Being John Malkovich, among many others, but the smartest decision producers made with this series was in the hiring of this man in particular.

I liken this role to that of James Spader as Red Reddington on another NBC drama, The Blacklist. While the show itself is very popular, many critics and viewers have noted that it wouldn't be anything without Spader. The same goes for Malkovich. The Blacklist is essentially The James Spader Show when he's on screen. Comparatively, Crossbones is The John Malkovich Show. What I've seen so far of the series, I actually wish he was on screen even more. That says a lot about the impact of one actor.

This version of Blackbeard is a very laidback guy at times, if you can even picture that. But just because he shows a calm side doesn't mean he's not a threatening figure. In fact, protagonist Tom Lowe's first impression of the pirate upon meeting him is seeing Blackbeard slit someone's throat. What an introduction! 

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And Teach's dialogue is the best out of anybody else on the show. Especially in the premiere, the word 'devil' gets thrown around a lot. Can the comparison be made? He says at one point to Tom, "I'm not the devil, Mr. Lowe. I have cast out the devil." But again, don't be deceived because he also says, "Not all those unflattering legends about me are untrue," meaning you don't want to cross him.

Another memorable line, from the third episode, also comes from him: "This is the new world -- money trumps anger, money trumps hatred, money trumps nation and country, money trumps God." And again, Malkovich speaks these lines of dialogue in a very calm manner. But when you listen to what he's saying, and knowing what he's done and what he is still capable of, an aura of power, control, confidence, menace and terror emanate from him.

I could continue going on and on about how brilliant Malkovich is as Blackbeard, but we can't forget the rest of the cast. There's Tom Lowe, who I briefly mentioned before. He is tasked with going undercover as a physician/surgeon. He destroys the Longitude Chronometer (a device that would wipe out piracy forever), which Blackbeard wants in his possession. But in doing so, he's opened not a can of worms, but a ship of worms.

Once on Blackbeard's island, can Tom do the other task that's been pushed onto him -- to kill the infamous pirate? Especially since the latter is ordering him to recreate the cipher that is the key to rebuilding the Chronometer. Lowe, played by Richard Coyle, is possibly the most normal character out of anybody on the show. But as the protagonist, that's to be expected. At least he gets in some good lines as well, like this one: "People fear you, Commodore. You haunt their dreams." 

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Unfortunately, outside of Blackbeard and Tom Lowe, the other characters don't show much depth or intrigue for the viewers. The only exception might be Kate Balfour, who's married to a man in a wheelchair and just might be catching the eye of the newbie in town. She's tough and won't back down to others -- all of which makes her stand out more than the rest.

There's Tim Fletch (played by Chris Perfetti), Tom's right-hand man, I guess you could say. He's kind of a weakling and worries about everything -- exactly what you'd expect from a typical "sidekick."

And then there are those who work for Blackbeard: Selima El Sharad (played by Yasmine Al Massri), Charlie Rider (David Hoflin) and Nenna Ajanlekoko (Tracy Ifeachor). Selima isn't afraid to torture Tom for answers. And put a sword in Nenna's hand, and she's ready to go. Charlie is more of a mystery to me. It's too early to tell what he's like.

But none of these four (Fletch, Selima, Charlie and Nenna) keep my attention for very long. I've only seen the first three episodes, so I hope over the course of season 1, we get to see their characters fleshed out more and find out more about them as people and as three-dimension beings rather than being stuck in bland roles.

Crossbones is a fun show to watch, plain and simple. There are beautiful locales and sets; enough action, violence and gore to keep it exciting; and an actor in John Malkovich that has me intrigued to see what Blackbeard is planning next. And if the writers and producers can flesh out the rest of the cast better over the remaining episodes, then get ready to sail the high seas on a thrilling adventure. And if that issue isn't resolved, then at least we have The John Malkovich Show. 
 

Will you be watching Crossbones this summer? Does John Malkovich's portrayal, from any promos you've seen, have you intrigued?

Crossbones premieres tonight at 10pm on NBC.

(Image courtesy of NBC)



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