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5 Shows like Black Sails: Walk the Plank
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5 Shows like Black Sails: Walk the Plank

Natasha Evette itcherIf you’re gagging for some more swarthy pirate television action, I’m afraid there’s no booty for you, matey. While television might be sorely lacking scurvy sea dogs, there’s plenty of other TV shows like ‘Black Sails’ with many a drunken scallywag and saucy wench to keep you entertained. ~ Natasha Evette

A Pirate’s Life For… Not Me

‘Black Sails’ is an adventure drama set in the 1700s, centering around pirates. While it boasted rich visuals and expansive detail, the focus seems to be less on adventurous voyages, and more on sleepy pirate politics, mediocre violence, and gratuitous female nudity. The result is a confused show lost at sea, bobbing between an arrr matey kitsch, and a lopsided ‘HBO’ imitation where women are publicly brutalized and raped.

Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see a historical/adventure drama where the treatment and portrayal of female characters wasn’t unnecessarily sexualised and ignored by writers creatively in favour of getting their breasts out in just one more scene.

So, I’m unimpressed to say the least.

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Shows Similar to ‘Black Sails’…

‘Crossbones’ (NBC, 2014)

The only other pirate-themed show on my list today, and it didn’t do too well for itself, I’m sorry to say.

Tom Lowe, a surgeon slash assassin spy finds himself as a sort of prisoner under his mark, Blackbeard, who ends up trusting him more than the others around him.

In a pile of lukewarm reviews, ‘Crossbones’ was cancelled after only one season in 2014. It’s colourfully shot, and stays mostly on dry land. The characters aren’t enthralling, but John Malkovich’s commanding and eccentric performance makes it worth checking out, even if the rest of the show comes out a bit lifeless.

Similarity Match: 90%
A landlubber of a show! Piratey, weak, and a little bit of a flop, ‘Black Sails’ and ‘Crossbones’ may be reaching for complexity and depth, but both are a fish out of water, even if the visuals are very different.

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‘Vikings’ (History, 2013- )

Vikings, oh, Vikings. It’s brutal and honest – I’ll give it that much.

It’s an action/adventure drama series set in early medieval Scandinavia, based on the legendary viking, Ragnar Lothbrok, who eventually became the king of Denmark and the raider and menace of England and France.

I can safely say that after watching three seasons of this show, there is not one redeemable character. Every time there’s a battle scene, I secretly hope they’ll all be hideously slaughtered and then I can stop watching.

Similarity Match: 80%
The setting and era may be different, but the adventure and action of ‘Vikings’ and ‘Black Sails’ keep them afloat.

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‘Rome’ (BBC / HBO / Rai Fiction, 2005-2007)

Set in ancient Rome, Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus, two lowly soldiers, find themselves intertwined with the battles of war and politics.

The show centers on fictional and historical characters, from Julius Caesar to Cleopatra. A simply stellar cast showcases not only the lives of the powerful and influential in this era, but also the common man.

There’s a lot of violence, nudity and sex (it’s HBO, c’mon) and although some artistic license is taken with the historical accuracy, it’s a rich, colourful and brilliantly cast show.

Similarity Match: 70%
While Rome isn’t set at sea, there’s politics, secrets and adventure. This famously expensive series can show you just how historical action should be done.

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‘The Tudors’ (BBC Two / CBC Television / Showtime / TV3, 2007-2010)

The story of the reign of King Henry the VIII in sixteenth century England.

This show is made by the glorious costumes, sets, and the rich performances from the actors: namely, Natalie Dormer, Maria Doyle Kennedy and Jonathan Rhys. It’s an impossibly striking, well-crafted show, even if the quality does dip considerably after Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn are no longer, er… featured.

Just like ‘Black Sails’, you can expect an inordinate amount of violence and grim torture scenes, female nudity, and sex scenes. There’s intriguing politics throughout, and the commitment to set design, makeup and costumes is fantastic.

Similarity Match: 65%
Shiver me timbers! While action and adventure is not a part of ‘The Tudors’, it’s immersive, medieval and brutal.

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If You Like ‘Black Sails’, You Will Like…

While the below might not be a series similar to ‘Black Sails’ explicitly, you will recognise similar themes, or similarities in the characters and atmosphere.

‘Game of Thrones’ (HBO, 2011-Present)

Another HBO cash cow based on the novels by George. R. R. Martin and following the civil war (past and present) building around the crown.

If you haven’t heard of this show by now, then I don’t know what rock you’ve been under for the last three years. ‘Game of Thrones’ is very mainstream popular these days. Chances are, you’ll have already heard of it, if not seen it.

‘Game of Thrones’ is different from the others mentioned here because although it has some roots in the historical, medieval drama genres, it actually belongs to the fantasy genre. Dragons, demons, magic, all of that!

Don’t worry if the fantasy part isn’t up your street, the similar political intrigue, blood, sex, and adventure will swash your buckles, regardless.

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In Davy Jones’s Locker?

‘Black Sails’ is an unfortunate waste of resources and potential – but this is why I put off watching ‘Black Sails’ for so long; I knew exactly what was coming. Series similar to ‘Black Sails’ are often lacking in originality, no matter the hat they’re wearing.

The casting is weak, and the characters are white-sauce bland. With time, it does become a little more palatable, and character depth is eventually explored. But we shouldn’t have to swim an entire season through murky swamp water before we start seeing land-ho.

What are your favourite aspects of ‘Black Sails’? What other shows similar to ‘Black Sails’ are there that I’ve missed?

Let us know in the comments below!

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