June 7, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Crossbones”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on CROSSBONES:  The infamous pirate Edward Teague AKA Blackbeard (John Malkovich), has established an island kingdom for himself on New Providence in the Caribbean, with himself as its self-styled Commodore.  Thomas Lowe (Richard Coyle) is a British agent charged with recapturing a newly-invented chronometer from the pirate’s hands, and killing Blackbeard.  In the pilot, he had his chance, but discovered that Teague was conspiring with the Spanish for unknown purposes, so he saved Teague’s life and is biding his time as the local physician.

Episode 2:  It was an oddly becalmed second hour for Crossbones, written by Co-Executive Producer Blake Masters and directed by Ciaran Donnelly, as the Commodore plotted twin overly convoluted schemes.  First he summoned an old confederate to the island with the idea of having him hand the newly-restored chronometer to the British so that they would believe that he, Blackbeard, didn’t exist.  When his old friend rejected that idea because the Brits having that chronometer was bad for pirates in general, Blackbeard clandestinely masterminded an attempt on his own life, so that his friend could be executed for the crime without his own fingerprints being on the death, and so he could continue to claim that his island was a democracy rather than a dictatorship.  In the end, the Commodore’s second in command agreed to pass the chronometer on to the British, and it all seemed like a lot of trouble for an all-powerful pirate to go to, wheel-spinning for the sheer sake of wheel-spinning, with even the other characters wondering why Blackbeard was making so much effort.

That didn’t leave Lowe with much to do for the week.  He was embroiled in Teague’s second scheme and almost executed along with the other pirate, but he was rescued by the local head of trade Kate Balfour (Claire Foy), who claimed the two of them were in bed together the night of the assassination attempt–a lie, but by the end of the episode, they were indeed in each other’s arms.  A lot of time was also devoted to Kate’s seemingly disabled husband James (Peter Stebbings), who was examined by Lowe and who seems to have been legitimately tortured on the rack as a Jacobean rebel back in Europe, but whose legs aren’t quite as bad as he lets on.  Presumably all of this is going somewhere, but it’s not clear just where.  Black Sails, a series with plenty of its own problems, nevertheless did a better job of explaining piratical politics than Crossbones is doing so far.

Now that the regular series budget is in force, Crossbones was almost entirely landlocked for the hour, and the only action sequence was a somewhat unconvincing staging of the assassination attempt on Blackbeard (John Malkovich has never been an action star, and at age 61, he’s even less so).  There was little interaction between Blackbeard and Lowe, and since the show is committed to keeping the pirate’s master plan a secret, little happens but characters looking at each other with suspicion and/or hostility, while Malkovich watches with his Malkovich smirk.

Crossbones is still handsome and fairly intelligent, especially for a summer network series, but tonight’s episode wasn’t a step forward, and one hopes it’ll regain the high tide as it continues.


PILOT + 1:  The Seas Are Stormier, and Not In A Good Way



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."