Sometimes it's important to be first out of the gate, but even if NBC's "Crossbones" (10 p.m. Friday, WPXI) was not the second pirate TV show this year, after Starz's "Black Sails," "Crossbones" would still be a disappointment.
Never mind that it's clumsily put together -- a flashback scene was not clearly presented as such in a review screener -- but its lead pirate, the clock-obsessed Blackbeard (John Malkovich), is a sometimes dull, dictatorial aesthete. He's barbarous but not that entertaining, except when receiving acupuncture treatments (and then he just looks like an oddball).
It doesn't help that Mr. Malkovich puts on a quasi-British accent that's more of a Malkovich-ish accent than it is British.
Still, Blackbeard is more fun to watch than the show's heroic center, English surgeon/spy Tom Lowe, played by Richard Coyle, who most closely resembles comic actor Danny McBride, a distraction for a series attempting to draw viewers in with drama.
Lowe is tasked by the Brits with keeping a longitude chronometer from Blackbeard, and he's ordered to assassinate the famed pirate, which he gets a chance to do in the pilot but doesn't.
Some viewers complained that "Black Sails" spent too much time on land and not enough pirating on the high seas. "Crossbones" seems likely to elicit similar complaints after Lowe arrives at the island Blackbeard rules as its self-appointed commodore.
"Crossbones" is extremely violent with multiple stabbings and throat-slitting and a particular penchant for threats to eyeballs (at least three in the series premiere). That's to be expected with a pirate drama but "Crossbones" doesn't offer compelling enough drama to complement its banal brutality.