“Crossbones” (NBC, Fridays), “Friday Night Spotlight: Pirate Pictures” (TCM, Fridays in June). Pirates! Their parrots, their peg legs, their eye patches; their planks for walking, their X’ed spot-markings; their swashbuckling ways and way of talking; their “Shiver me timbers!” and “Avast there, mateys!” We have long embraced the buccaneer as a naughty, unconventional, seafaring hidden part of our politer, conventional, landlubbing selves. Criminals, certainly, and yet lovable enough to inspire one of Disney’s most enduring theme park rides (and, true, one of the weirdest — pirates burn down a town), which in turn inspired those movies, and a song I won’t be able to get out of my head for a day now that I’ve thought of it.
In “Crossbones,” John Malkovich plays Edward Teach, the pirate name Blackbeard, though he is white-whiskered now and in hiding (believed dead). Malkovich plays him, possibly echoing creator Neil Cross’ intention, as a kind of Col. Kurtz, a mystical madman holed up as the lord of a tropical place, with Richard Coyle the secret agent sent to terminate him with extreme prejudice. (It is very much a kind of late-Brando performance Malkovich offers here; his choices as to speech and carriage seem both at once eccentric and highly worked out.) Naturally, they talk God and philosophy — a feature also of Cross’ “Luther,” another series in which cops and criminals ponder the nature of good and evil. There are quotations from Shakespeare (“I believe that there’s nothing good or bad than the thinking makes it so,” says one well-read pirate lass) and, from the future, the Rolling Stones: “Please allow me to introduce myself,” says Blackbeard as he slits some extra’s throat. The anachronism doesn’t matter: This is a fantasy in which something as good as impossible happens in every act; you may do better watching with an attitude of “Oh, isn’t that interesting,” rather than trying to make sense of it. “Black Sails,” Starz’s pirate show, seems a documentary by comparison.
Turrner Classic Movies, meanwhile, is reaching into its bottomless treasure chest to fill every Friday night in June with pirate movies, from the silents to the 1960s, from big-budget productions to barrel-bottom programmers, including comic and musical turns on the genre. (It seems a little unfair — piratical, one might almost say — to be airing these films in competition with “Crossbones,” but it’s hell, after all, out on the airwaves.
The series begins Friday with the 1924 silent “The Sea Hawk,” “The Black Swan” (Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara, 1942), “The Spanish Main” (1945, Paul Henreid and Maureen O’Hara, directed by Frank Borzage), “Pirates of Tripoli” (Paul Henreid again), “The Golden Hawk” (1952, Sterling Hayden) and “Hurricane Island” (1951, tag line: “That lady pirate’s on the loose!”). Next week, June 13, views the lighter side of pirating, with Burt Lancaster in “The Crimson Pirate” (1952); Gene Kelly and Judy Garland in “The Pirate” (1948), with a Cole Porter score; Bob Hope’s “The Princess and the Pirate” (1944); and “Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd.” June 20 is (almost) all about Errol Flynn, with “Against All Flags” (1952), “Captain Blood” (1935), “The Sea Hawk” (1940),” “The Master of Ballantrae” (1953), with Louis Hayward stepping into the title role for the sequel “Fortunes of Captain Blood” (1950). Finally, June 27, we get to “Treasure Island” (1934, with Wallace Beery as Long John Silver), followed by the 1960 low-budget fantasy knockoff “The Boy and the Pirates,” “Captain Kidd” (Charles Laughton, 1945), and “Blackbeard, the Pirate” (1952), directed by Raoul Walsh and starring the great Robert Newton, the man you imitate when you imitate a pirate.
“Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix, now). Netflix’s women-behind-bars series is back, in its streaming entirety, for a second season. A dramatic comedy, a comedic drama, however you want to approach it, it is with a few exceptions a beautifully performed and dramatically satisfying work of television art. This year the story moves on from its original premise, focusing on the story of a privileged white girl who finds herself suddenly the inmate of a minimum security prison, moving on to a more inclusive ensemble piece whose main subject is the way people manage to care for one another within a world that doesn’t encourage it. I review it at length here.
“The 68th Annual Tony Awards” (CBS, Sunday). The jolliest of all award shows and, sparkles and spangles notwithstanding, the homiest. With Neil Patrick Harris this year a nominee (and a performer, don’t you fret, America) for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” hosting duties revert to Hugh Jackman, your previous favorite guy for the job. As always, the stage will be alive with numbers from musicals you may never well see, this year including “Aladdin,” “Les Misérables” (that again?), “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder,” “Bullets Over Broadway” and “Rocky.” (Though, regarding that list, you may well have seen the movies they were based upon.) Appearing onstage to do this thing or that are, among others, Jennifer Hudson, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Bacon, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Will Ferrell, Liev Schreiber, Emmy Rossum, a mess of Zacharys (Quinto, Levi, Braff), Lucy Liu, Clint Eastwood, Patricia Clarkson, Leighton Meester, Ethan Hawke, Matt Bomer, Anna Gunn, Audra McDonald, Fran Drescher, Kenneth Branagh, Vera Farmiga, Tina Fey, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Groff, Samuel L. Jackson, Judith Light and LL Cool J, who must have it in his “NCIS: LA” contract that CBS can’t broadcast any sort of awards or tribute show without him.
Even with the computer-driven blockbusterization of Broadway, there is something plucky and improbable and miraculous about the theater, something still redolent of crazy kids with big dreams putting on a show in somebody’s uncle’s barn, something that speaks more of community than industry. Coming to you from the bigger-than-a-barn Radio City Music Hall, not itself a Broadway theater, but an easy walk to one.
“Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr.” (HBO, Monday). A film, not too long, by Perri Peltz (“The Education of Dee Dee Ricks”) and Geeta Gandbhir (“God Is the Bigger Elvis”), about the man who incidentally gave the world Robert De Niro. That the actor’s father was, in his prime, an artist of some note is widely known (though that his mother also was, before she gave it up, was news to me), but his work is as good as invisible now — a situation the film is clearly made to remedy. De Niro Jr.'s name is not on the film, but that of Jane Rosenthal, his partner in Tribeca Productions, is, and his cooperation is writ large through the documentary. He reads from his father’s journals and letters, provides family films and photos, with many of himself in short pants, and sits for interviews in his father’s studio, which he has preserved (in part to let his children “know what their grandfather did”).
So while “Remembering the Artist” is very much the father’s story, it is also the son’s; he speaks, emotionally, of regretting “certain things for my parents that I didn’t follow through on” and the “obligation” to document his work. On the one hand, it is about talent and timing: Although De Niro Sr.'s career began with great acclaim, he had the ill luck to arrive as a painter of people and things just at the moment American painting became an art of emotional and spiritual states, enshrining the figure not by picturing it but by recording its movements. (His liking for Matisse and Bonnard is evident at once.) Being in no doubt about his talent, he was therefore haunted by his lack of success, as contemporaries like De Kooning and Pollock went on to international acclaim. None of that matters now, of course: a picture is a picture, and De Niro’s speak for themselves. A score by Philip Glass (a New Yorker not without his own French influences) feels right and keeps things moving.