TV Review: Blacks Sails, Series Premiere


In the absence of Spartacus, Starz is in need of a percentage of original programming featuring maritime action, throat slitting, and exposed breasts. All three of those words fit into the vocabulary of Black Sails executive producer Michael Bay and this is what he delivers. Despite the success of the drawn out Pirates of the Caribbean film series there has been no effort unlike the zombie genre to parlay this success into a television show until now. Being on Starz there is room for upping the ante but ultimately Black Sails is about as run-of-the-mill as it comes despite trying its best to act as a serviceable alternative to the Jack Sparrows of the world.

Photo Credit: Starz
Photo Credit: Starz

Conceived as a prequel to Treasure Island, we open in the West Indies in 1715 where a group of pirates attack, in spectacular fashion, a cargo vessel for reasons known only to one Captain Flint (Toby Stephens). The plot focuses greatly on a specific missing document that will help lead the Captain and his crew to an extraordinary treasure. But, unbeknownst to him a recent addition to the crew, a cook named John Silver (Luke Arnold), has found the missing page and is looking to cash in on the fortune as well. All pirates bring their loot to the trade port of New Providence and is handed over to Richard Guthrie whose business is run by his daughter Eleanor. Her sexual history includes pirate captain Charles Vane (Zack McGowan) but she’s now currently is focused on a clever prostitute by the name of Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy).

Despite impressive production value, which plays things grimy and rough around the edges (although I question why everyone has such nice teeth), the wheels start too slow gradually and the plot hardly thickens. The most development is a brief glimpse into the politics of being a pirate which is basically showing distrust amongst the crew and the possibility of being cast out as captain of a ship. There is even a glimpse into the trade market which to me feels like the Black Sails version of all the taxation talk in Game of Thrones.

Long John Silver. Photo Credit: Starz
Long John Silver. Photo Credit: Starz

Between a rather lackluster plot and an expected journey towards wealth, there is also not much to invest in the main characters. Emphasis on Flint, Silver, and Billy Bones isn’t really established other than being aware of their history within the Robert Louis Stevenson book but they are key players nonetheless. If there is anything to focus on its all the usual tropes of Starz original series mainly betrayal and whole lot of nudity which is quite distracting and unnecessary.

While the first episode didn’t put much value in set up, its composition and a strong focus could really benefit this first season. So while I was rather disenchanted by this premiere it’s more than possible that things will settle in over the subsequent weeks. Black Sails makes a good argument that it is possible to keep the pirate craze going but it needs a little more care than what was presented here. A lack of interesting characters combined with a dull plot hasn’t benefited this premiere but it could ultimately be a great bit of escapism if done right going forth.

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