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TV’s Swashbuckling Summer: Pirates, Musketeers and Cowboys!

John Malkovich is Blackbeard on Crossbones
John Malkovich is Blackbeard on Crossbones
Courtesy NBC

Summer viewers long for lighter fare, and what better way to wile away a sultry evening than watching musketeers, pirates and cowboys swash and buckle their way across the television screen? What is even better is that these series are all on the kind of stations that keep the blood and gore and sex to PG levels, making them suitable for family viewing – or at least for families with tweens and young teens.

BBC America started the summer swashbuckling season off with The Musketeers, which continues its run Sunday nights. These great characters created by Alexander Dumas a century and a half ago never seem to get old, and the British series has kept true to the spirit of Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D’Artagnan while still managing to give it a fresh spin. That they put money into the 17th Century costumes, sets and action sequences is evident – but also evident is that they spent money on writers and researchers to help keep it historically authentic. As with any good action story, the heroes are only as good as the villain they battle, and Peter Capaldi – who also plays Dr. Who on BBC America (an iconic sci-fi character who has been known to swash and buckle as well)– is severe, slimy and sexy (in an icy cold way) as their nemesis, the evil Cardinal Richelieu.

The Musketeers airs on BBC America Sundays at 9 pm Eastern Time.

NBC has buckled its own swash for the summer – around the waist of John Malkovich. He plays the infamous pirate Blackbeard in Crossbones. Set a century after The Musketeers, this pirate saga has much in common with Black Sails, which aired on Starz earlier this year (and which will return in the spring), but is less graphic. There are battles and brawls, torture sequences and sex scenes (this is a story about pirates, after all), but NBC operates under different rules than Starz, and has kept it to PG-13 levels (although at times, just barely – and that is not just a pun about the more than partial yet not full on nudity of several of the cast). Malkovich is brilliant, switching back and forth from calm, pensive, dreamer to full-on crazy. Blackbeard was notorious for his cruelty, and Malkovich, even shorn of the iconic smoking curly facial hair for which the pirate master was known and got his name, does the character proud.

Crossbones airs on NBC Fridays at 10 pm Eastern Time.

As The Musketeers and Crossbones hit their mid-season stride in August, AMC joins in with its own action adventure, the cowboy epic Hell on Wheels. Returning for a fourth season on August 2, For three seasons viewers have followed the adventures of a former Confederate soldier, played by Anson Mount, as he sought out the Union marauders who murdered his wife and son, and then went on to help build the transcontinental railroad. There are Indians, bandits, horse thieves, corrupt businessmen and even more corrupt politicians and even armed Mormon militiamen as well as the elements to battle, and AMC has given viewers all that and more in the kind of epic Western not seen on TV since the days of Bonanza, Gunsmoke and The Big Valley.

Hell on Wheels airs on AMC Saturdays at 9 pm Eastern Time starting August 2.

So let the kids (at least the older ones near and into their tweens) stay up these summer nights to watch the kind of historical, action-adventure, swashbuckling, sword-swinging, gun-slinging kind of television that their parents and especially grandparents grew up with. The Musketeers, Crossbones and Hell on Wheels make for great family entertainment – and a delightful break from salacious smarmy reality shows or yet another vampire/werewolf/zombie gore fest.

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Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with nearly 40 years of experience as a ghost-writer, columnist, historian and game designer. Having grown up reading and watching movies and television shows about pirates, cowboys and, especially, Musketeers, Mark is having a wonderful time watching TV this summer.

An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include War and Peace, The Napoleonic Wars and the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from the age of Lincoln.
To view Mark's 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit his publisher at http://www.gmtgames.com/p-238-rebel-raiders-on-the-high-seas.aspx
…or his blog at http://markgmclaughlin.blogspot.com/

Mark’s latest work, the science fiction adventure novel Princess Ryan's Star Marines, is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats at http://www.amazon.com/Princess-Ryans-Star-Marines-Save/dp/1466218487/ref...

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