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'Crossbones' premiers on NBC starring John Malkovich as the pirate Blackbeard

John Malkovich plays Edward "Blackbeard" Teach in the new NBC series "Crossbones"
John Malkovich plays Edward "Blackbeard" Teach in the new NBC series "Crossbones"
NBC Promotional Photo

The long-awaited NBC series “Crossbones” debuted Friday, May 31, in the 10 p.m. time slot. The show revolves around the pirate Edward “Blackbeard” Teach in his later years, artfully played by veteran character actor John Malkovich, and his foil, Dr. Thomas Lowe, played by British actor Richard Coyle.

The year is 1712. The mighty British Empire is losing ships due to the poor sea navigation tools available at the time. They have offered a king’s ransom to the person who can make a device that will allow them to patrol the world’s seas with greater precision, thus eliminating piracy. Frederick Nightingale has fulfilled that duty creating a detailed chronometer, the secret to its construction hidden in an encrypted cypher.

The HMS Petrel, on its way from Jamaica to England, is beset by pirates. On board is Mr. Nightingale with his device. Dr. Lowe, a British operative as well as ship’s surgeon, overpowers him, destroys the device and attempts to destroy the cypher, but the pirates burst in and manage to save most of the cypher book.

When the smoke clears, Dr. Lowe and the few survivors are on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas. New Providence is a haven for smugglers and pirates lorded over by the Commodore, actually Blackbeard, although he doesn’t like to use the name anymore. Unbeknownst to Blackbeard at this point, Dr. Lowe’s actual task is to kill the infamous pirate.

The point, counterpoint between Malkovich (Blackbeard) and Coyle (Thomas Lowe) provides some of the best moments in the show. Blackbeard is dangerous. Lowe knows the “unflattering legends” and he knows it beyond the shadow of a doubt when Blackbeard grabs him and threatens to have hell visited upon him if he doesn't keep Nightingale alive. “Not all those unflattering legends about me are untrue.”

The story twists and turns between Blackbeard and Lowe, as well as through an ensemble cast of unique characters. Claire Foy is Lady Katherine Balfour, a fugitive from a charge of high treason that Dr. Lowe seems to be falling for. Yasmin Al Masri plays Selina El Sharrad, a mysterious woman from the Middle East with the ability to solve any puzzle. Tracy Ifeachor plays Nenna, an African pirate who can handle a sword better than most men. Chris Perfetti is the young and scared Fletch, Dr. Lowe’s surgical assistant now turned partner in crime.

The show is colorful with elaborate sets and costuming. The violence, however, is bloody and brutal. There was a lot of throat cutting going on and it was up close and personal. This is definitely not a show for young children or even sensitive pre-teens or teenagers.

At the end of the episode, Lowe succeeds in saving Blackbeard’s life instead of taking it. So where does that lead us now? We’re going to have to watch next Friday at 10 p.m. on NBC to find out.