HBO’s pirate comedy ‘Our Flag Means Death’ flounders

HBO’s pirate comedy ‘Our Flag Means Death’ flounders

HBO’s pirate comedy ‘Our Flag Means Death’ flounders
Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and shipmate Oluwande (Samson Kayo) search for humor in HBO’s new pirate comedy.

Don Pedro Cruz(Mar. 19, 2022) — Everyone loves pirate stories. From silent films to Errol Flynn in “Captain Blood” and Pirates of the Caribbean and its many sequels, as well as more unusual takes on the genre such as “Muppet Treasure Island,” the adventurous lives of pirates capture our imagination.

HBO Max’s new offering “Our Flag Means Death” springs from the story of real-life pirate Stede Bonnet in the early 18th century. Unlike most pirates, Bonnet came from nobility and had money and land. Bored with noble life, he decided to leave his family and become a pirate.

But he wasn’t an especially good one, and after a short career, he was captured and hanged. Since the elements of his story seem like fertile ground for a comedy, I had high hopes for the series.

David Jenkins, who also created the understated but amusing “People of Earth,” is behind this show. Taika Waititi has an executive producer credit, directs some episodes and plays Blackbeard in the series. Because Waititi’s famous name was thrown around in early promos, I expected something fun and offbeat like his “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” or “Jojo Rabbit.” I was disappointed.

Dead in the water

The first three episodes of “Our Flag” streamed in early March. I tried hard to enjoy it, but unfortunately, it’s just not very funny. A few good laughs occasionally drift by, with lots of attempts at humor that fall flat in between.

A good TV series needs at least two things to get me hooked: a plot that keeps me hungry to find out what happens next and at least one major character whom I care about. “Our Flag” fails on both accounts.

As Capt. Bonnet, Rhys Darby is the butt of many jokes. The so-called gentleman pirate’s aversion to violence and lack of knowledge about captaining a ship is supposed to be amusing. We get a glimpse of his humanity when he reads bedtime stories to the brutish, illiterate crew, but mostly he just comes off as a privileged rich guy with no purpose except to play at being something he’s not.

One character that shows promise as a sympathetic figure is a crew member named Oluwande (Samson Kayo). He has much more skillful awareness than his shipmates or captain and offers helpful advice to Bonnet in private. Bonnet even comes to him for advice after realizing he might need to know something about fighting hand-to-hand. The camera often cuts to Oluwande shaking his head or rolling his eyes, yet he genuinely appears to want to help Bonnet succeed.

But at least in the first three episodes, Oluwande doesn’t have enough screen time to carry the show. Other characters, such as Leslie Jones of “Saturday Night Live,” have potential for comedy, but the script doesn’t give them enough material to shine.

As far as plot, there isn’t much. Bonnet flails his way from one mildly funny situation to the next, but his disastrous attempts at pirating aren’t enough to make me eager for the next episode. I may watch one or two more to see if the show digs a little deeper for comedy treasure but will keep searching for a good comedy. Watch the trailer for “Our Flag Means Death”

Head for ‘Black Sails’

‘Black Sails’ has plenty of swashbuckling and romance but also explores politics, slavery and social issues of the 1800s. The large cast of characters include Billy Bones (Tom Hopper), Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) and Long John Silver (Luke Arnold).

If you’re in the mood for a more standard (and better) pirate series, try “Black Sails.” This high-seas epic ran on the STARZ channel starting in 2014 and didn’t get as much attention as it deserved – because how many people get STARZ?

“Black Sails” builds up a detailed backstory for the classic novel “Treasure Island.” It combines a mixture of pirates from real-world history with characters from the Robert Louis Stevenson novel to explain how and why the treasure got buried on Treasure Island in the first place. Its creators intend the series to end where the book begins.

The portrayal of both fictional and historic characters may be too complicated for some. But as we get to know Capt. Flint (fictional), Charles Vane (real), Anne Bonny (real) and Billy Bones (fictional), the drives and dreams that eventually lead to the buried treasure become more meaningful. Even when characters come into conflict with each other, it’s sometimes hard to know whom to root for because you can sympathize with the motivations of each.

“Black Sails” has all the expected pirate story elements, with lots of unexpected twists and in-depth exploration of the characters’ lives to invest viewers in their stories.

You can stream all four seasons on Hulu. Feel free to binge through it or make it last a while. Watch the trailer for “Black Sails”

Don Pedro Cruz went to film school before becoming a baker. He then got into publishing at several tech magazines in San Francisco before moving to the newspaper world as a graphic designer. He also writes stuff. Send comments to