John Malkovich's Blackbeard stands out in 'Crossbones'

John Malkovich as Blackbeard in Crossbones (Handout)

John Malkovich as Blackbeard in Crossbones (Handout)

Bill Harris, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:01 PM ET

When John Malkovich's Blackbeard is asked why he no longer considers himself to be British, he gives a very complete answer.

“(I'm) a fellow with no wish to be governed, inspected, indoctrinated, preached at, taxed, stamped, measured, judged, condemned, hanged or shot.”

Well ... when you put it that way ...

So with the new series Crossbones debuting Friday, May 30 on NBC and Global, we have a clear view of why Blackbeard wants to be a pirate, rather than a dutiful British subject, in the early 1700s. The more pressing question for a modern TV audience is whether Crossbones is seaworthy or a shipwreck.

The truth is, I'm not sure it's really ambitious enough to be either.

Created by Neil Cross, who also created the Idris Elba series Luther, Crossbones is set in the year 1729 on the tough-to-find island of Santa Compana. That's where Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard (Malkovich), reigns over an uneasy alliance of thieves and outlaws. Much of the world believes the legendary Blackbeard is dead. Clearly he is not.

In the first episode of Crossbones, pirates working for Blackbeard attack the HMS Petrel in the hopes of stealing something called the Longitude Chronometer. It's a new British invention that will revolutionize ocean navigation and theoretically go a long way toward keeping valuable vessels away from the likes of Blackbeard.

On board the Petrel is Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle), the ship's surgeon. But it turns out he's a lot more than that. Lowe winds up on Blackbeard's island, armed with a secret mission.

There has been a lot of this historic/fake-historic/fake-historic-with-magic stuff on TV lately. Crossbones is part Pirates of the Caribbean, part The Da Vinci Code, part Turn, part Black Sails, part Apocalypse Now, part MacGyver and, in one particular scene, part The Princess Bride.

For a prisoner, Lowe sure makes his way around the island easily enough. At one point you'll be saying to yourself, “Wow, what crazy-good eyesight Lowe has!” The fight scenes are of elementary-school-play quality, in terms of their intricacy. Look over there, whoops, now I have the gun, etc. And there probably are a few too many beautiful naked women in oceans and people with good hair and good teeth on this island than would have been the case in real life at the time.

The best part of the first episode of Crossbones is Malkovich's demeanor and dialogue. His skill and presence can make the hair stand up on the back of your neck when Blackbeard utters lines such as, “Mr. Nightingale is denied permission to die.” But I think it's fair to wonder what the heck the multi-Oscar-nominated Malkovich is doing here.

That's nothing against the other actors in Crossbones. But when Malkovich is on screen, it's one show, and when he isn't on screen, it's another show. And while a lot of that has to do with Malkovich himself, it speaks to overall inspiration, too.

I just hope Crossbones earned John Malkovich a ton of treasure.

Twitter: @billharris_tv

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca


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