‘Crossbones’ Series Premiere Review

Published 9 months ago by , Updated June 2nd, 2014 at 2:18 pm,

crossbones season 1 episode 1 pirates Crossbones Series Premiere Review

[This is a review of the series premiere of Crossbones. There will be SPOILERS]


When a legendary two-time Academy Award-nominated actor like John Malkovich (RED 2) decides to take part in a new pirate series - Crossbones, written and created by Luther‘s Neil Cross, as well as James V. Hart and Amanda Welles - one must take notice.

As talented as this Illinois native is, it’s difficult for Malkovich to simply “disappear” into a role, due to his charismatic gravitas on screen and his instantly recognizable face. Like Denzel Washington, he simply devours every acting particle around him, leaving anyone standing in his path with the difficult task of matching his performance (or in the terminology of this series, finding the strength to stand toe-to-toe with the devil himself).

Fortunately, NBC and executive producer Cross have found a counterpart worthy of Malkovich in Richard Coyle (Prince of Persia). This multifaceted Russell Crowe lookalike refuses to cower in the presence of greatness, and at times stands as Malkovich’s equal. If the premiere is any indication, these two men will be the cornerstone that prevents Crossbones from crumbling to pieces. But will they be enough to keep the series afloat?

Crossbones also succeeds in its development of a compelling plot. Without going for the most obvious choice of a lost treasure or some powerful relic from the Aztec Empire, Cross, Hart and Welles decide to focus on a navigational device that will give its owner the power of longitude.

In an era before global positioning satellites, successfully navigating the open seas was one of the greatest treasures on earth. The reason for Blackbeard’s obsession to obtain this device is still unclear – and perhaps it will ultimately be used for discovering buried treasure, but that seems unlikely. As with BBC’s critically acclaimed series Luther, Cross appears to be telling a more personal tale of the legend of Blackbeard. Gold trinkets and ancient artifacts would be trivial compared to unlocking the mind of one of the world’s most infamous pirates.

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Sure, there’s a scene where Blackbeard is visited by “The Woman in White” (Aimee Mullins). But are his visions merely brought on by headaches, as Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle) suggests, or is there something larger at stake? Is she a former lover perhaps? There’s no denying Blackbeard’s flair for the dramatic, but does his eccentric behavior warrant him the title of devil? There’s another player is this story who could turn out to be even more sadistic.

The lovely Lebanese actress Yasmine Al Massri (Caramel) plays the ruthless Selima El Sharad, who’s willing to torture and kill for the information she seeks. It’s still unclear if she wants the navigational device all to herself or if her fate is tied to Blackbeard’s. In a television landscape starved for strong leading women, Massri is a welcomed sight. Her beauty is matched by not only her ferocity, but her intelligence as well. She will undoubtedly leave a lasting image in your mind if you decide to give this series a chance. Sadly, the rest of the Crossbones ensemble is not so memorable.

It’s not that the rest of the cast is bad, it’s just that none of them possess the charisma of Malkovich, Massri, or Coyle. Fortunately, the trio of writers seem to be developing a story on a microscopic scale, so Crossbones may not need a sprawling cast of characters like HBO’s Game of Thrones. If that scenario ends up holding true, then this troupe is plenty capable of carrying this story well into its first season and possibly beyond.

Another weakness of the show is the budding romance between Tom Lowe and Kate (Claire Foy). Instead of focusing on something so obvious, the writers should be guiding his ship toward the exploration of the “bromance” between Blackbeard and Lowe.

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The concerns listed above are simply nitpicking at a premiere that was convincing in cementing itself as the potential standout show of the summer. Crossbones may lack the nudity and profanity of its cable counterpart Black Sails, but it’s not worse off for it. Without the moral freedoms of a premium network like Starz, Neil Cross, James V. Hart and Amanda Welles have had to make their leading men and women the focus of their new project, and for the most part they’ve succeeded. Even with the slitting of throats and marauding of vessels, Crossbones is subtler in its attempt to draw the audience in.

The question now becomes, where will you get your pirate fix from? Is Black Sails more your cup of tea, or is NBC’s journey to the ‘Devil’s Dominion’ a more enticing adventure? Keep watching to see where Crossbones takes us next time.


Crossbones continues with ‘The Covenant’ next Friday @10pm on NBC.

Follow David Griffin on Twitter @griffinde
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  1. I watched this last night and thought it was pretty good. Hopefully it gets an audience. Seems like Friday nights in the summer would be a tough bet. I’ll be watching this one.

  2. One little nitpick not hardly worth more than a mention: Blackbeard does not look like the traditional Blackbeard such as we would normally think of him appearing. Having said that, I have not actually watched the premiere, but will on the website later this week as time allows. It looks like it could go either way: very good or very bad, but I am hoping for good. Black Sails was not quite as good as I had hoped, but it is still worth a watch.Maybe I am just being fussy because I like the pirates in the old Raphael Sabatini books (they are classic well-written swashbuckler reads!)? I am glad they made shows like Black Sails and Crossbones, irregardless of their interpretations. It is good to see some variety over the usual fare most stations present each season. Fortunately, recently we have seen some enjoyable shows recently (Sleepy Hollow, Salem, Penny Dreadful, Black List, Arrow, the upcoming Flash and Netflix Marvel shows, Agents of Shield, etc.).

    • Yeah he’s definitely not what I would think of when I think of Blackbeard. But maybe forcing us to set aside our preconceived notions is a good thing.

      Definitely looking forward to more of this. One can never get enough pirates in one’s life.

  3. Goldilocks…. I’m not that impressed with those new shows you mentioned, the best shows on TV are Game of Thrones, Hannibal and Masters of Sex!..Nothing comes close to these, but I’ll check out Crossbones, it doesn’t look bad..

    • @zipper give Penny Dreadful a chance and a look ! You won’t regret it !

      • I second that as well as hoping you try Orphan Black, Sleepy Hollow, The Blacklist and Arrow. I’d also add Hannibal to that list, as well as True Detective.

        Didn’t like Masters Of Sex or Agents Of SHIELD myself, thought they were terrible, definitely won’t watch them again.

  4. well if you want some nudity just go watch a p o r n damn perv

    • Did you just sat “watch a p orn”? Without the “o” at the end?

  5. Saw it, enjoyed it. Still, the show can’t hold a candle to Black Sails which was just so damn awesome.

  6. saw a little of it got bored and changed the channel. Since people are liking it I have to check it out again.

  7. I do like the shot of the ships on water which is much beautiful compared to Black Sails but unlike Black Sails, the story isn’t as engaging. Black Sails is like Deadwood or Rome and that’s why I like it. The dialogues here felt very force, the actors felt like actors who dress the part but you still felt like you’re in a theater show. It doesn’t felt like you’re actually there in that period of time. I’ll give it a chance because it’s done by Neil Cross and it’s just a pilot. Who knows, it might be good.

  8. Bored sh*tless after 5 mins. Horrid show

  9. So much better then the farce of Black Sails. We all know Blackbeard faked his death after he scuttled and sank the Queen Anne’s Revenge ( found last year) of the coast of North Carolina. He was also pardoned and changed his appearance to carry on his piratical ways. This story takes place after his death in November 1718 and the legends that followed it. This is an older Teach that survived and what could have happened. Very well written and acted. The budget constraints have been covered with good sets and set dressers. Yes we still have clean and attractive woman and everyone has good teeth. But this is damn close of what we know how life was. The scripts are sharp as Malkovich is brilliant. The Friday time slot is bullox to me as usually have shows and performance every weekend. So the DVR is our Friend. Reviews are mixed but David Griffen does a nice job here.

    • The ‘Queen Anne’s Revenge’ was actually discovered in 1996, not last year, however it was only confirmed to be the wreck in 2011. The trouble in 1996 was that there weren’t any markings, or evidence to support the initial claims that it was Blackbeards ship. They were however able to recover markings on it that proved it was once the french slave ship ‘La Concorde’ which is the ship that was captured by Edward Teach, and Benjamin Hornigold in 1717, and eventually renamed as the legendary ‘Queen Annes Revenge.’

      Secondly, Blackbeard most certainly did not fake his death. He was decapitated by Lieutenant Robert Maynard of the royal navy in 1718, and his head was brought back as proof of his death. Little is known about where Blackbeard actually came from, however his life as a pirate, and his eventual death were very well documented.

      This show is a fictionalization, and is definitely not an accurate portrayal of life on the high seas.

      • Right Pirate Enthusiast…Most Pirates did have slave ships…Hell Hornigold taught everyone how to Pirate. Bellamy and Blackbeard even sailed together but he soon left as he did not want to attack British ships. Yes indeed I should have said she was brought up last year but discovered in the 90′s….but most do not know that, however when Teach sank her, he indeed faked his death that was the point but that was the ruse and changed his appearance. We think after his pardon he could come and go as he pleased and ran his NC port with an iron fist. Again this takes place several years after his death November 18th 1718. Many stories and legends came forth after his death. His head was placed on Maynard’s stern and horrific stories of the head coming to life and cursing helped Teach “live on.” …let alone how the body reacted and “swimming” around the Lieutenant’s ship giving the middle finger salute. It is all legend and Mr. Cross is writing this as a fan with Malkovich saying he a huge fan of his previous work.

        With the discovery of the Whydah over 30 years ago we now have proof of how Pirates, real Pirates lived, fought and died. I teach Pirate history for National Geographic and while Teach was not part of this ship ( who took 50 ships in 11 months to the tune of over 400 Million dollars) the fact Black Sam and Teach were mates we have to know his history. I like the sets and what they have done with the dressings, unlike Black Sails which was ridiculous Crossbones seems a little closer to the truth but again made for TV so the sod pounders can relate. Those of us who know how it was like you and I have to refrain from yelling “continuity” as we watch these offerings.

        To be candid the World wide Pirate community of teachers and “re-in-actors” are divided right now, but as we have had only one installment. I am in over 150 of these groups and the discussion boards are very busy…..most of us are going to give it a chance. Being in a safe port is one thing, but 3 to 4 months at sea is another.

        Good job and Fair Winds to you Lad!

    • Are you kidding ? Black Sails is about 10x what this major network farce of a show is. It seems the entire shows budget was blown on Malkovich.

  10. Man in the Suit…Sir, I respectfully disagree with you in regards to comparing Black Sails with Deadwood. ( still one of the best things ever on the small screen) As Deadwood’s scripts were taken from stories from “The Pioneer” and as based on actual history as possible. Black Sails mixed members of “The Flying Gang” with Stephenson’s damn novel and was completely wrong on all counts, including time lines and sadly, there was nothing remotely true going on. With Crossbones Cross wrote this with respect and was delivered well, very well IMHO and was on the edge of my seat on the delivery and timing….much like when ever Al Swearingen was in frame, you could not wait for what came out of his mouth next. Give it a chance Lad!

  11. As a history buff, with a particular love for the age of sail and piracy, I was quite happy to hear that there were going to be so many pirate based dramas this year. Ever since the amazing box office flop that was Cutthroat Island, television and movie producers have steered clear of the genre, and thanks to the pirates of the caribbean series they’ve been making a come back. Unfortunately, this show is destined to send pirate adventures back to the dark ages.

    I understand this is supposed to be fictional, but you need to draw a line somewhere. They took the premise far enough away from anything plausible that there was no need to call Malkovich’s character Blackbeard. It would have served them better to invent some new character better suited to their plot. The only thing that ties this version, to the real man that was blackbeard, is the name. I actually found it pathetic that they even tried to draw parallels between the two. Heck, even Abraham Lincoln vampire hunter the character at least LOOKED like the proper Abe Lincoln.

    I understand if this sounds petty, so just try to see this from another angle. Imagine a television series, revolving around a fictionalized Mahatma Gandhi. However, instead of being an Indian civil rights activist, they make him a white frenchman, living in Australia, who runs a shoe repair store. What’s the point of using his name?

    The best think this show can do is go off the air. Otherwise, I’ve enjoyed this brief enthusiasm for the pirate era while it lasted.

  12. I’m sorry, as good an actor as Malkovich is, he aint no Blackbeard. Every image and description of Blackbeard is of a large burly man with long black hair and long black beard, hence the name. Sorry, but a little, skinny, bald, white goateed man, just does not cut it.

  13. BlackBeard with white beard and bald?

  14. Saw this finally online (no UK air date set) and have to say, I’ll stick with it on good faith but I found the whole thing very dull and Malkovich was surprisingly off-form with his quick speech, especially on the beach when I had to pay particular attention to what he was saying because the words went by so fast.

    Haven’t seen Black Sails yet but the ads for that made it look like Spartacus on the high seas but if I was to compare this show to any other, I’d liken it to The Tudors in that it looked great visually and had some decent actors but overall bored the pants off me.

  15. Hope the show continues, but Please, have the prop people look at a history book for uniforms. A Red jacket with 2 sleeves does not make a British uniform, except in High School productions. Glad they are at least using Brown Bess Muskets and try to keep the Napoleonic swords to a minimum.
    Thank you

  16. please please NBC find a way to bring back crossbones, It is a show my husband and I actually agree to watch together, and enjoy thoroughly. We absolutely love the intensity, the adventure, scenery, and especially the actors . You could have not casted a better blackbeard,John Malkovich is so intriguing and love his acting abilities how he can transform from good to bad too crazy and caring for a loved one. You can’t give up on this show please bring it back. most people have DVR or TiVo so I don’t know why they’re complaining about the time slot. Would love to have another season of crossbones and another season and another and another. There’s no way you can run out of a plot especially during that Era of time,there is so much you can go off of where it ended. I’m begging you please NBC please please. It’s captivating amazing and John Malkovich and Richard Coyle are mesmerizing. We could not stop watching and was very disappointed to find out it’s been canceled?? Has it really been Cancelled??