As HBO is usually pretty successful when it comes to its wide array of shows, other channels have thrown their hats into the ring. Showtime was quick to follow them and HBO’s sister channel Cinemax now has two shows under their belt with Strike Back & Banshee.
Starz is still a baby at the series game, but they’ve had an arsenal of their own. With the Spartacus series wrapped up and DaVinci’s Demons’ 2nd season prepped to go later this year, Starz is looking to get more of its shows out the door.
Black Sails is Starz’ latest entry. It starts off running out of the gate, but it’s hard to tell if the show really has legs at this point. Although the premiere is January 25 (tonight, as of this writing), the full episode was released both online and on the Starz on Demand channel for the past week. Either they’re confident this will increase viewership or they perhaps figure the show may not get as far as it should. Either way, it’s available to see.
I like it, I do, but so far I have 3 problems with Black Sails:
1.) I feels too much like the video game Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. This is a mixed bag. If you’ve played the videogame, you know the environment and all of the sea battles in Black Sails have a familiarity to them that will leave you smiling. You may not feel as lost in the show if you’ve played the game or picked up a history book. On the flip side, because there’s a game just like it, it’s quite possible that Black Flag could steal (or already has) Black Sails’ thunder if the show doesn’t come across as exciting. I’m hoping it’s the first case, myself.
2.) Michael Bay’s name is attached to it. It’s invoked like it’s Bruckheimer, and I suppose that when his name is mentioned, one probably thinks of explosions and girls. Black Sails has that all over the place, but that could have happened without Bay’s name. It could be a deterrent to some who still have the bad taste of films like Transformers: Dark of the Moon in their mouths. Let’s be honest, what kind of name is Dark of the Moon anyway?
3.) Rather than taking the mystical route of DaVinci’s Demons or the more swashbuckling style of something like Pirates of the Carribean or Cutthroat Island, Black Sails shoots for something more ruthless and businesslike. The ruthlessness – the blood and gore (when it happens) is welcome. The business part of it all had me hoping that the series doesn’t keep moving in that direction over time. While I understand that the entire show can’t be on the sea (like Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – how I love that film), that so much of it is on land made me sigh a little. In fact, the opening sequence of this really is the only part that actually takes place on the open sea. It’s very similar to NBC’s Dracula. You expect a dark, brooding Vampire tale in Victorian London, and you get a political battle whose biggest highlight is Dracula showing up in the day for a business meeting. That’s not really fun.
To it’s credit, as the pilot, this episode has to establish all of the players involved. The grit of it all is interesting, at least. It’s dirty, maybe even a little dark, but it’s also a little boring to all have the minutiae of the dealings thrown out there like that. If I choose to think of the pirate battles in the same vein as Sons of Anarchy’s motorcycle chases, it’s possible we could have one sea battle every two or three episodes. Maybe that won’t be too bad overall, but they’re going to have to amp this up quick before they start losing the audience. Give us a swordfight or a musket fired or something.
Okay, here’s what we have:
Hoping to bring the same flair for violence to the pilot that he brought to one of Game of Thrones’ best episodes, Neil Marshall (Doomsday, Centurion, The Descent) does his best to give the West Indies in the 18th Century a bloody introduction to the audience. He does a great job with the content he’s given. You can’t complain about what you’re seeing in terms of the atmosphere. Black Sails starts in the open sea with a ship under attack. We come to find that the ship holds the key to a special cargo, one that Captain Flint (Toby Stephens, the Bond villian in Die Another Day) is dying to get his hands on. Flint, though considered a legend among the pirate world, is having a tough time holding on to his crew. Having led them on a wild goose case, some of the crew feels it’s time to replace Flint’s leadership with someone more able to bring everyone a profit.
As Flint’s crew take over the ship, they find John Silver (Luke Arnold), who has acquired a page ripped out of a book that the cook stole. He joins Flint’s crew, saving his own skin. When Flint finds the journals (and the book with the missing page), he decides to port into Nassau to meet with Richard Guthrie, a rich businessman who helps to fund some of his escapades. While getting themselves situated in Nassau, Silver realizes that the page he has must have come from one of the books and looks to see if he can locate where it came from. We come to find through the course of the episode that the page is the key to locating a ship carrying a near incalculable wealth, more than enough to Flint’s crew to live happy.
That appears to be the main story arc in Black Sails. The show introduces a number of characters. You have Eleanor Guthrie (Malecifent’s Hannah New), who helps to keep the pirates in business while trying to forge a name for herself outside of her father. Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy, who I may name as a Hottie of the Day), a courtesan who makes side deals out of the local brothel. I like both of the women in Black Sails, but I can’t exactly say they’re the best of roles for either individual. They’re both strong in the sense that they can take care of themselves, yet (and maybe this is just me) I hoped that maybe for Eleanor in particular was a character that was calling the shots in her position. The pilot gives the impression when you first meet her that she does, but it kind of collapses into a yield between her and Captain Vane (Zach McGowan), who’s out to make himself the number one pirate of the Carribean. Perhaps as the series goes on, this will improve. Vane is your bad guy, that’s easy to see, but there’s so little shown about him that McGowan might as have had a mustache to twirl between his fingers.
So far, of the characters, Flint is the only one I have any kind of care about, and Stephens is delivering the best performance of everyone there. No one person is bad, though. I’m hoping his character can keep the crew enthralled. I haven’t seen enough of everyone else that endures me to them just yet, which is almost the same problem as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. You know who’s involved, but give me a reason to think about them after the show fades to black. Even the slowest Walking Dead episodes leave me wondering and salivating for the next episode.
I’m ready to see where Flint goes, but I’m just not sure I’m sold on everyone else.