The good people at Starz love to dramatise parts of human history and this time they decided it was time to take a shot at the jolly old pirates of the Caribbean, and have us travel back to the 18th century in Black Sails.
Black Sails is an interesting piece; the premise of the show is that John Silver has found an important page in a captain’s log, which Captain Flint and his crew are desperately looking for, so as to find a large booty. In case you somehow missed it, these are characters from Treasure Island and the booty they are looking for is the same one which the book is centred around. Black Sails essentially plays as a prequel to the Robert Louis Stevenson classic.
There are two things which I think makes this very interesting; firstly that there isn’t really an official prequel to Treasure Island and secondly that they have intertwined characters from the book (and other fictional characters) with real life pirates and figures from the era. What makes it further interesting is that despite pirates being a short and very popular period in history, that huge popularity has never really produced too many TV pirate shows depicting the time. So somehow Black Sails have fallen into a bit of a niche.
I really enjoyed Spartacus (which was also made by Starz), the one thing which always bothered me about Spartacus however was that it was a bit hammy. The acting was generally mediocre at best, it could be incredibly corny, it stretched history a bit too much but it just had something which made it incredibly likable. Black Sails isn’t too dissimilar to this.
One area which Black Sails is definitely better is in the acting, I would say that most of the actors do a good job portraying their roles (thought Toby Stephens as Flint was excellent [must take it off his mother]). There are still people in there who are dirt rotten and you can’t help but wonder if they didn’t have a pretty face if they’d have got the role (I’m sure we all know the answer) but generally it is a vast improvement.
They’ve done a good job of building all the characters up and allowing their storylines to intertwine. The show excels at having characters dip in and out, allowing them to gain importance as the season progresses in a seemingly organic matter. Flint’s descent into madness is also a very well executed story arc. The use of the real historical figures is well done (especially Calico Jack) and the depictions are very interesting.
The biggest issue I have with the use of characters is that John Silver is woefully underutilised. It seems odd that the guy, who links us to the base story, is relegated to a backup role in the TV prequel. I like the character and I like how they are showing his clever little sneakiness which is evident in the book; however he seems to be a comedy character first and foremost. Don’t get me wrong Silver is inserted into the main storyline at times when it’s necessary, but I can’t help but feel that he should be a bigger part of the show.
Sadly Black Sails has also fallen into the Starz hammyness. At times it is incredibly cheesy, to the extent that you’re too busy rolling your eyes to really pay attention to what is now happening in the next scene, it really takes you out of the moment. The other issue I have with this season is that despite only having eight episodes, the show seemed to take forever to get going; it wouldn’t shock me if people gave up on the show because of the slow start.
That’s the thing with Black Sails, there are more good things about it than bad, however the bad things are change the channel bad at times. I don’t want to make it sound all doom and gloom, because it is fairly well acted, the characters are interesting, the story arcs are good and it’s pirates! And that’s its biggest selling point; it’s a fairly well written show about pirates which contains sea battles, mystery, treasure, a few laughs and naked bodies, what in that list isn’t there to love?
If you haven’t watched Black Sails then I recommend that you do because it is a fairly solid show with a bunch of potential (the set up for season 2 has left a lot of anticipation). If you have watched the show however then please leave a comment about what you thought about season 1 of the show.