Come seeking adventure and salty old pirates, stay for a delightful crew getting in touch with their feelings. HBO Max’s Our Flag Means Death reimagines the myth of those dangerous scallywags in a series loosely inspired by the true story of Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), the “gentleman pirate.”
While the real-life figure met a quick demise, the show uses a wealthy man’s midlife crisis-inspired decision to take to sea with a band of misfits as the framework of a workplace comedy aboard a pirate ship. Darby is joined by frequent collaborator and executive producer Taika Waititi as Blackbeard, the most nefarious pirate ever known, who jumps aboard Bonnet’s ship with his own crew. Surprisingly, when the gentleman pirate meets the most feared man at sea, the duo form a most unlikely friendship.
Bonnet, who runs his ship with great workers’ rights and benefits, shows Blackbeard that a happy crew is a more productive crew, while Blackbeard teaches them how to fight and instill fear among militias for more fruitful looting. Waititi and Darby lead with the charm of Waitit’s other comedies What We Do in the Shadows and Wellington Paranormal, with a similar attention to the absurd hilarity that can come from putting extraordinary characters into mundane, everyday situations.
Here we get a comedic breakdown of the myths behind the people who turn to piratehood, coming from places of crisis and survivors on the fringe. Some of the funniest moments come from seeing that the real savagery came not from the pirates, but from British and Spanish naval officers working for the rich to steal land. And speaking of the rich—one of the season’s standout episodes so far, “The Best Revenge Is Dressing Well,” features Stede letting Blackbeard tag along to a fancy party stuffed with aristocrats, who are monstrous in their own way (and thankfully as dumb as can be). “Pirates, they attack with force. The upper crust, they strike with cutting remarks disguised as politeness,” Stede explains to an incredulous Blackbeard as he enters this strange new world.
As its endearing characters band together against the insurmountable wave of colonialism, Our Flag Means Death establishes itself as a show that’s as smart as it is hilarious—and the cast that supports Darby and Waititi is stuffed with breakout talent, including Joel Fry (Cruella), Samson Kayo (Bloods), Kristian Nairn (Game of Thrones), Vico Ortiz (Vida), Matthew Maher (Nurse Jackie), and Nathan Foad (Bloods). Kayo and Ortiz have a romantic subplot that’s the show’s core of impending chaos., while Fry and Foad’s scene-stealing sharp humor is so great you’ll find yourself going back to catch anything you may have missed upon delivery. Between them all, friendships, feuds, and fuckery ensue. We’ll be tuning in for more oomph and pageantry, please!
Our Flag Means Death’s first six episodes are now streaming on HBO Max; two more arrive March 17, and the final two drop March 24.
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