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'Crossbones' review: An odd John Malkovich in alluring pirate drama

John Malkovich as Blackbeard in the pilot episode

John Malkovich as Blackbeard in the pilot episode of NBC's pirate drama "Crossbones." Credit: NBC / Francisco Roman

THE SHOW "Crossbones"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Friday night at 10 on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Blackbeard the pirate (John Malkovich) wants the prototype of the "chronometer" -- the 18th century device that could determine longitude with extreme precision. But Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle) -- a British spy who works undercover as a ship's surgeon -- is ordered to stop him, then dispatch him. Good luck with that! 'Beard is holed up on Santa Compana -- aka the Devil's Dominion -- where he lords over riffraff, and beautiful women like Nenna Ajanlekoko (Tracy Ifeachor), Selima El Sharad (Yasmine Al Massri) and a highborn traitor to the Crown, Kate Balfour (Claire Foy).

MY SAY NBC has dumped "Crossbones" on Fridays at 10, which means the network has done a better job of hiding this than Blackbeard hid himself. But why? "Crossbones" is indisputably odd -- a foreign object adrift in a high sea full of commercial flotsam. But that's its allure, maybe its salvation, too. Malkovich as the beardless (indeed, hairless) Blackbeard is a blackguard full of creative ways of dispatching rivals -- most of which he babbles about. But the real surprise here -- the pleasant one -- is the rest of the cast. They're mostly British and good. The series has adequate production values matched with an adequate script, and that makes "Crossbones" better than it even maybe is. This is a summer series, which usually means "low" expectations but those are easily exceeded here.

BOTTOM LINE An oddity with additional oddness in the form of Malkovich. But as summer diversions go, this looks to be a good one.


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