Length: 10 x episodes (25-30 minutes each)
Back in the day, many, many years ago, piracy was something that took place on the high seas, as opposed to some pasty bloke’s bedroom.
Ships filled with rogues would fight, drink and steal from the wealthy - and one another - with great alacrity, gaining reputations that, while almost certainly overinflated, are still remembered to this day in historical stories.
One of these true stories caught the eye of New Zealand genius Taika Waititi and has been brought to hilarious, exaggerated life with the delightful Our Flag Means Death on BINGE.
Our Flag Means Death is the story of Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), a foppish dandy who, for reasons the show slowly reveals, has abandoned his family and life of leisure and become captain of the pirate ship Revenge.
The only problem? He’s really, really, really bad at the job.
See, Stede is more about flamboyance and flair than he is about, you know, actual pirate stuff. When describing himself as “The Gentleman Pirate”, he claims “instead of killing with weapons, [I kill] with… kindness.”
This, of course, does not go down particularly well with the crew, many of whom are totally fine with killing the old fashioned way. So, not only does Stede have to contend with the usual duties of a pirate, his ship’s often on the verge of mutiny as well.
Our Flag Means Death gets off to a bit of a rough start, to be honest. As with a lot of workplace comedies, it takes the show a little while to find its feet. This isn’t a laugh-a-second gutbuster of a yarn, and some of the early moments fall a bit flat.
This isn’t the fault of the talented cast that includes the likes of Kristian Nairn (Hodor!), Ewen Bremner (Spud!) and Joel Fry (not sure, but he’s very good!) It’s simply due to the fact that setting up this premise takes work and that’s not always conducive to big chuckles.
However, by the time episode three rolls around, and we’re introduced to the notorious Blackbeard (Taika Waititi), the show finally finds its sea legs and becomes a genuine charmer.
See, while Stede had grown weary of his comfortable home life, Blackbeard has become disillusioned with his piratical shenanigans, feeling less like a man and more like a sentient reputation.
Hell, he barely even needs to try anymore and he’s quite bored with it all.
So the pair learn from one another, Stede about piracy and Blackbeard about soft fabrics and fancy trousers.
What’s crazy about this comedic bit is that IT ACTUALLY HAPPENED!
Blackbeard did indeed spend time with Stede while he was recovering from an injury, even taking control of his ship for a while. Oh, and a funny little joke where Stede pays his crew a living wage instead of just shares of the booty? ALSO TRUE.
Talk about stranger than fiction.
Our Flag Means Death is at its best in the little moments of character and situation. When Blackbeard is marveling at the impracticality of Stede’s quarters, where untethered bookshelves sit right next to an open fire.
Or when the crew has to pretend to be fancy landed gentry to avoid being arrested and hanged by the British, resulting in a genuinely hilarious dinner party scene.
Not all the jokes land, it’s true, but with a talented support cast that includes the likes of Leslie Jones, Fred Armisen, Kristen Schaal and Nick Kroll, the gags hit much more than they miss. And the story itself is oddly compelling, albeit an unusual fit for a comedy.
Our Flag Means Death is perhaps not the second coming of comedy telly - not yet, anyway - but it is a worthy watch for those in the mood for a light laugh in a unique location. A great cast and talent behind the scenes go a long way as well, and it’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.
So, is this a plank worth walking down? We’d have to say… Yarrrr.
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