"Crossbones." John Malkovich as a low-talking, pajama-wearing, Col. Kurtzian Blackbeard is certainly the main draw of NBC’s new pirate drama “Crossbones,” but he’s not the only one.
Slip streaming the more hyper-paced, and R-rated, “Black Sails” on Starz, “Crossbones” may have a similar conceit — pirates are people too! — but its ambitions are driven more by character than plot.
There’s plenty of plot to go around, of course — on top of the requisite scenes of vessel capturing, British navy avoiding and general pirate revelry, there’s a uber narrative involving the invention of the longitude chronometer, seen here as a near-magical device that will change navigation, and apparently end piracy forever.
Believed by many to be dead, the scourge of the seven seas is, in fact, living the high life as Commodore of a gorgeous and conveniently uncharted island populated by pirates, prostitutes and assorted fugitives from justice, including the comely British noble woman, Kate Balfour (Claire Foy).
Gorgeously produced, with lots of groovy period details (island contraception gets a shout-out), "Crossbones" can be enjoyed as summer trip through space and time. But its heart is the surprisingly hypnotic game of psychological cat and mouse played by Blackbeard and Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle), the man who has been sent to kill him. That's not going to happen, of course, or at least not in any timely fashion. The question is: What will? NBC, Fridays, 10 p.m.
"Halt and Catch Fire." The tale of a trio of visionaries at a mid-level Texas computer company who attempt to outsmart the big boys of the tech industry during the 1980s does not sound like the stuff of great television, but then neither did the story of a Madison Avenue ad man making his name in the early '60s. And while the pilot of AMC's latest character-driven drama doesn't hit the gloriously high bar set by the opening episode of "Mad Men," it is compelling, nonetheless.
With a title that refers to a computer term and an opening that speaks for itself -- sales whiz Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) running down an armadillo -- "Halt and Catch Fire" quickly establishes characters that both transcend and energize the particulars of its story. MacMillan is a fast-talking alpha male maverick who quickly hooks up -- cue cable-friendly abandon -- with early coder-cool prototype Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), a savant in a pixie cut who clearly knows how to do what he wants to sell.
Which is the idea that tech is not an industry so much as a nascent revolution. Not that MacMillan's new employer, Cardiff Electric, is buying. But MacMillan didn't come to Texas for the waters. He came to enlist the aid of the brilliant but stalled-out engineer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy). In the late '70s, Gordon developed his own version of personal computer that never quite worked. Now, he is just another grind, trying to keep his family afloat, while his wife (Kerry Bishe), who works as a programmer for a toy company, looks on in frustration and despair.
So Butch Cassidy and his reluctant Sundance, trapped in the regrettable big-framed specs and high-waisted pants of the period, take on the Man, in this case IBM. AMC, Sundays, 10 p.m.
"Orange Is the New Black" A new season dumps on Netflix at 12:01 a.m. June 6, leaving you just enough time to catch up on the hilarious and genuinely innovative first season of the prison dramedy that is the best show Netflix has produced to date. Netflix, anytime.