TV Review: ‘Crossbones’

Crossbones TV Review NBC

John Malkovich as Blackbeard the Pirate? Arrgh, sign me up, right? Alas, not so fast with “Crossbones,” a summer series that it feels like NBC has produced a couple of times before (“Crusoe,” anyone?), with beautiful crystal-blue waters and characters and situations that carry about as much weight. In a sense, Malkovich’s philosophical butcher is a logical heir to the timeslot where “Hannibal” has been dining (albeit on very small portions), but other than its lovely vistas, the early episodes suggest the ruthless villain has been thrown into the ocean in a leaky vehicle — and without a paddle.

That’s both a shame and something of a surprise, since Neil Cross (“Luther”) is at the helm, although the premise essentially establishes Blackbeard (who prefers to be known as the Commodore) as a secondary player. (UPDATE: The credits have been revised to include writers James V. Hart and Amanda Welles, who share “created by” credit with Cross.)

The real star, actually, is Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle), a James Bond-like operator, circa 1729, dispatched by the governor of Jamaica (Julian Sands) to find and terminate Blackbeard — who had been presumed dead — with extreme prejudice. Masquerading as the ship’s doctor, Lowe pretty quickly encounters his prey, but discovers for a variety of reasons that he can’t seek to dispatch the pirate just yet, leaving him as a sort-of prisoner who Blackbeard (who actually sports a gray goatee) trusts more than he does most of the minions surrounding him.

As for those minions, they’re a diverse lot, true, but also a rather bland one. Blackbeard, meanwhile, pursues an ahead-of-its-time invention, the Longitude Chronometer — basically just an old-fashioned MacGuffin, to set the plot in motion — that risks thwarting his buccaneering ways, for reasons that even three episodes in remain mysterious. There’s also the distraction of an alluring woman (“Upstairs Downstairs’ ” Claire Foy) who also occupies Blackbeard’s island.

The scenery is beautiful enough, but the action sequences, while gory (with throat-slitting and whatnot), wind up feeling indifferent at best. That leaves some interesting but go-nowhere exchanges between Lowe and Blackbeard, who wax eloquent about various topics, including religion.

Malkovich has always possessed a rare gift for conveying a still sort of menace, but the series is too lifeless to capitalize on those talents.

NBC has been clever about acquiring or co-financing such properties, with enough international money in them to make them potentially viable even with modest to mediocre ratings.

Ultimately, though, a series has to deliver more than just a favorable deal. So whenthe “Crossbones” flag comes into view, it’s probably wise to high-tail it in the other direction, for all the wrong reasons.

TV Review: 'Crossbones'

(Series; NBC, Fri. May 30, 10 p.m.)


Filmed in Puerto Rico by Parkes+MacDonald Prods. in association with Universal Television.


Executive producers, Neil Cross, Walter F. Parkes, Laurie MacDonald, Ted Gold, Ciaran Donnelly; co-executive producers, Liz Sarnoff, Blake Masters, Dave Digillio, Michael Oates Palmer, Josh Friedman producers, Rudd Simmons, Jane Bartelme; director, David Slade; writers, Cross, James V. Hart, Amanda Welles; camera, Christopher J. Baffa; production designer, Tom Conroy; editors, Art Jones, Meg Reticker, Tim Streeto; music, Mateo Massina; casting, Avy Kaufman, Patricia Alonso. 60 MIN.


John Malkovich, Richard Coyle, Claire Foy, Yasmine Al Massri, Chris Perfetti, Tracy Ifeachor, David Hoflin

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  1. Darkman says:

    i like the show a lot,i can understand every word and enjoy it to boot. Malkovich is terrific,i could pretty much watch him do anything and of course it’s violent,that time period was. i hope NBC keeps it and uses it with Hannibal,each running 13 weeks,that would be grand.

  2. Scott Menser says:

    I have enjoyed the series so far and think Malkovich has played his character well enough…even considering the accent. This was never claimed to be a history lesson (I am a former history teacher) and the story so far has been interesting IMHO. If you are looking for true history then stick to stations that promise such. This is for entertainment only.

    Lowe is my favorite character in the early going as is probably intended. I really feel this needs more time before just dumping it into the trash. Give it a chance and try to be a little open minded.

  3. Roger MacDonald-Evoy says:

    As a student of history and former Navigator I find the whole Longitude Chronometer bit sick. The reason the British Navy made the prize was because they were wrecking ships and several methods were tried with Halley and Newton getting involved. What is most insulting is that a clock alone does not solve the problem of longitude, it took decades of work at the observatory to make the observations necessary to make the tables that created the times for the daily hour angles and declinations. These were not available in 1712.

  4. Les Vogt says:

    Just dreadful. Mindless violence, terrible dialogue and… I just lost interest… again.

  5. Malkovich is the weakest link in this new series, his pathetic inaudible attempt at an English accent is embarrassing to say the least, rather than take the bull by the horns he slurs and mumbles to cover his feeble attempt.Otherwise I enjoyed the show and wish Malkovich had died as planned.

  6. Julie says:

    I am watching it as I write this, and wishing I could understand it. I don’t read lips and so far (20 mins. in) there has been only 1 intelligible conversation – truly. I don’t think my TV is broken – the commercials sound just fine.

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