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Crossbones Fails to Swashbuckle

June 2, 2014

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The big show I was most excited to watch this summer was Crossbones. And while, I’m going to keep watching, the first episode left me felling less than thrilled.

The premise is that a British spy posing as a doctor, Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle) is sent on a mission to kill Blackbeard (John Malkovich). In the meantime, Lowe has also destroyed a powerful machine that can give anyone at sea exact coordinates for where they are, and Blackbeard, who has captured Lowe, wants him to fix it. It’s all a bit convoluted. Also, Lowe is instantly drawn to Blackbeard’s right hand woman, fugitive Lady Kate Balfour (Claire Foy), but she’s married to a man in a wheelchair (Peter Stebbings), who smokes opium, and doesn’t really seem to have much of a purpose yet. Rounding out the cast is Yasmine Al Massri as Selima El Sharad, a beautiful and intelligent code breaker who doesn’t shy away from torturing our hero, and Fletch (Chris Perfetti), Lowe’s assistant who provides us with exposition of Lowe’s plans.

In the first episode, Lowe manages to poison Blackbeard and tries to escape, but sees one of the pirates meeting in secret with Spaniards and decides to keep Blackbeard alive until he can figure out what is going on with that. He barely saves Blackbeard’s life in time, then goes to swim naked with Lady Balfour.

Overall, the show doesn’t thrill. I had no problem getting up several times to get food, use the loo, or refill my cocktail with no sense of urgency to get back and keep watching. I expected it to be much more difficult for Lowe to kill Blackbeard, but he nearly does it in the first hour of the show, then has to undo his efforts for a convoluted reason. If that is the setup of every episode, I’ll be stopping after the second one.

What makes the show worth watching, however, is Malkovich. To no one’s surprise, he’s fascinating to watch. He is whimsical, eccentric, occasionally funny, and deeply troubled. He has one speech in the middle of the episode where I could not take my eyes off of him, and he rules every scene he’s in, which are far too few for a show where he is the lead.

I’m really hoping that there is more screen time for Malkovich coming up, and that the rest of the ten episode season picks up the pace. I’ll be watching, rum in hand, waiting to see.

Crossbones airs Fridays at 10pm on NBC.

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