Let Pirates Be Pirates! An Open Letter To Starz Regarding Black Sails

Black Sails

Dear Starz,

Over the last three weeks, your new show Black Sails has opened with one of the best title sequences on television. Series composer Bear McCreary’s (Battlestar Galactica, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) superbly evocative theme captures my rapt attention each time it plays over beautiful tracking shots of ivory sculptures set against a deep black background as vast and endless as the ocean itself. It promises tales of action, adventure, and intrigue on the high seas and it tantalizes me with images of deeds both dignified and debaucherous, beckoning me to settle in for what is sure to be an exciting hour of entertainment.

But then the episode begins, and my ship of hope is quickly dashed against some very jagged rocks as I’m taken through what is increasingly becoming clear to me is nothing more than a failed attempt to recreate Spartacus. It’s got all of the sex, vulgarity, and violence of that show without any of the heart that kept it from descending into a bad porn parody.

It’s a shame, because your series shows a lot of promise. In spite of the material, your actors continue to show their skill. Your production design is amazing! From a vibrant color pallet that makes the world you’ve created come alive to the inspired rag tag look of the characters’ wardrobe, you’ve got the look and feel of a show far better than the one you’re actually delivering on a weekly basis. All that’s left is for you to put these pieces into play in a manner that takes full advantage of their enormous potential.

Please, let pirates be pirates! Keep the “political intrigue” if you want, but don’t allow it to weigh the story down so heavily. Get these characters out on the open ocean! We’ve been landlocked for nearly half of the series now. You do plan to have piracy on you pirate show, right?

But most importantly, get a compelling sympathetic character to base the show around. As an ensemble piece, Black Sails isn’t working. Too many characters running around with too many agendas doesn’t lead to confusion, it leads to boredom; especially when the stakes aren’t high enough. If I’m to invest in Flint’s desire for independence, give me a reason to care about it other than the ravings of a self serving, megalomaniacal “pirate”.

Spartacus was actually about something, a compelling, sympathetic central character on a journey of significance surrounded by equally compelling supporting characters. We’re nearly four episodes in to Black Sails at this point and I’ve yet to identify a character this show couldn’t do without. Instead the show so far has been a hodgepodge of half baked ideas and weak “political intrigue” (Really? They’re PIRATES!!!), none of which has come anywhere close to capturing my attention with the same spirit of the amazing opening sequence.

You’ve put the story before the characters, which thus far has diminished them and the show to the point of insignificance. Without characters your audience can care about and identify with, without people to root for, there quickly becomes no reason for your audience to watch.

Please, Starz, fix this; or greenlight Stephen S. DeKnight’s rumored Spartacus spinoff focusing on Julius Caesar, I’d definitely watch that.

Sincerely wanting for this to be a better show,

Justin Bolger

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