Starz’s ‘Black Sails’: A Really Slow Journey Through Pirate Life (Review)

The “Treasure Island” prequel takes itself seriously as it spices things up with violence, sex and nudity


Anyone expecting a rip-roaring, swashbuckling good time from Starz’s new pirate series “Black Sails,” will have to be patient. Like a slow-winding journey on an actual 18th century sea vessel, this series methodically explores pirate life, one long conversation after another.

That’s not to say there isn’t some action, sex and nudity. “Black Sails,” which touts “Human Target’s” Robert Levine and Jonathan E. Steinberg as creators and movie-go-boom superstar Michael Bay as an executive producer, has its fair share of gun, fist and sword fights. And this being a Starz series, there is of course a hefty amount of gym-sculpted nudity, one orgy and a little girl-on-girl action — and that’s just in the pilot.

But where its network predecessor “Spartacus” playfully reveled in bloody battles and sexy hookups, “Black Sails,” which debuts Saturday at 9 p.m. ET/PT, takes itself far too seriously when strategically delving into matters of rage and raunchiness. On this show, sex isn’t just sex and murders have meaning; such things are acts of power and politics.

Also read: ‘Black Sails’ Panel Talks Pirates, Sex … and Pirate Sex

While sex and violence are used much the same way on other premium dramas such as “Game of Thrones” — a program “Black Sails” resembles in tone, costuming and breathtakingly exotic locales — there is a level of prescient character development on those offerings that is painfully lacking on this one.

Although “Black Sails” is an 18th century prequel to the Robert Louis Stevenson classic “Treasure Island,” Captain Flint (Dame Maggie Smith‘s handsome son Toby Stephens) is too mysterious to get to know, much less like. It’s not revealed until the fourth episode what even drives Flint and up until then, all viewers can surmise is that this is a man deathly determined to find a highly sought-after treasure. His crew doesn’t fully trust or understand him and unfortunately, neither will viewers if they don’t stick around until week four.

Although Stephens’ name is first on the marquee, his is about the least interesting of all the characters. Mark Ryan, who plays Flint’s quatermaster Gates, commands every scene he’s in with his earnest face and demeanor. The same goes for the towering Tom Hopper, who like Ryan, is strangely moralistic as boatswain Billy Bones. Meanwhile, Luke Arnold delivers what little humor and twinkly-eyed mischief “Black Sails” has as John Silver before he becomes the infamous and Long version of himself.

See video: Watch Michael Bay’s ‘Black Sails’ for Free – Right Now! 

The most intriguing players on “Black Sails” aren’t the men but the women. The fire that burns behind the eyes of assassin Anne Bonny (Clara Paget), Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy) the professional whore, Bahamian business woman Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New) and an aristocratic Miranda Barlow (Louise Barnes) lends spark to the series but alas, they aren’t in that many scenes.

“Black Sails” premieres Saturday, Jan. 25, at 9 p.m ET/PT on Starz.