Can this pirate comedy bring real romance back to TV?

It’s not a twist, exactly, when HBO Max Our flag means death becomes a love story. Creator David Jenkins insists that the pirate romance Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and Blackbeard (Taika Waititi) was at the center of the show from the very beginning. But for queer viewers who saw sparks fly between beloved characters only to fade into nothingness, the episode nine kiss between the two ship captains was a major event. And it’s hard to blame anyone for being surprised by a full-fledged TV romance. After all, they hardly exist anymore.

Our flag means death is in many ways an offbeat workplace comedy cut from the same cloth as Office. But the entire first season is structured around Stede and Blackbeard, from their cute encounter shortly after being stabbed on a tricky date during a treasure hunt to that long-awaited melee. TV shows pair their characters all the time. Still, it’s hard to think of a recent series that has paid so much attention to a will-or-won’t-it classic.

Illegal work is such a satisfying show because you watch Cybill and Bruce, and will they meet? said Jenkins in a recent Zoom call, referencing what has become the gold standard of slow-burn TV romance. “I guess there aren’t many shows where it’s the main event.” Darby adds, “I feel like it was big in the 80s and then we fell off the wagon with it. The world has changed so much, and I guess we’ve forgotten about romance.

The internet fandom, with its ships, fan fiction, and incredibly detailed fan art, has never forgotten the romance. These viewers adopted Our flag means death with an intensity that has delighted and surprised those who have made it. Darby has already met adoring fans, when he was a voice on Netflix Voltron series, but “it’s increased tenfold”, he says. “It’s unbelievable. And because of the fans, this thing is now surfing so high. The season ended on March 24, but Darby says he saw the intensity of the fan response increase as the season progressed. airing the latest episodes – and a search for #OurFlagMeansDeath on Twitter proves that the enthusiasm has not weakened.

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Stede and Blackbeard may be the focus of the show, but there’s a full cast behind them, including two other groundbreaking love stories, a non-binary hacker with a mysterious past (played by a non-binary actor Vico Ortiz), and a host of guest stars. They all fit, in one way or another, into the welcoming but still violent world based very, very loosely on the adventures of the real Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard. (They teamed up in real life but probably didn’t focus more on tea time and feelings than on looting and looting.) This is a show in which Nick Kroll and Kristen Schal appear as ridiculous French aristocrats and Arnett plays a rude pirate who is also Blackbeard’s ex; it’s also a show with lots of flashbacks to different characters dealing with childhood trauma. The latest episode features a heartbroken Blackbeard locked in a box of pillows and Stede faking his death via jaguar. With so much going on, everyone can find something to love.

There are streaming numbers that suggest Our flag means death surpasses Disney+’s Marvel series moon knight (“What’s that? Is that a knight who lives in the moon?” Darby teases), though as with any streaming show these days, the actual ratings are hard to pin down. And in our IP-obsessed age, it’s hard to quantify the value of a dedicated fan base, especially for something that’s not based on any IP other than vague legends about people who lived there. is 300 years old. Jenkins, cautious, will only say this: “All the analyzes I can see say that we are outperforming. And then the analytics that they can’t share on the network, you kind of talk to them and they’re like, “Yeah, yeah, that’s good, that’s good.”

Confirmation of a second season, however, remains frustrating, although, in this reporter’s opinion, Darby and Jenkins won’t. his like guys who are afraid of not being able to continue their story. “I think with the amount of impact the show has had, you’d be stupid not to think, ‘Hmm, I wonder where else we should take this thing? “, Says Darby. “Like I said earlier, it’s become a phenomenon.” Jenkins, pointing out Darby’s salt-and-pepper stubble, jokes that “Rhys is already growing a beard in season two .”

Our flag means death, with its period costumes, huge cast and numerous stabbings, was not an easy show to pull off. “We had this great production, and then we had the same time as barry happens to shoot,” says Jenkins, with much praise for HBO’s contemporary LA show. “Everyone has to put on a wig and everything, so a 10-hour day becomes a 14-hour day by the time you get everyone there.” Darby, who immersed himself in Stede more than any other role he’s played, says he brought the character home at the end of the day – “but I was only home for a few hours per night, and they were for sleeping.”

But success, as is so often the case, has a way of softening the hard parts. For Jenkins, that meant not just putting on the show, but making sure he was the right person to do it. He, Waititi, and Darby are all straight men in their 40s — the exact demographic that has driven so many romances in television history, and also spoiled so many of the oddball contestants. To do things differently, Jenkins knew he needed the right people to help him. “If you’re going to write a show for a modern audience, I think you need the sociological imagination of a well-rounded room,” he says. “So you can create something that appeals to more than a bunch of guys in love with Soprano– which includes me. If you have an undiversified piece, you’re just going to do the same thing over and over again.

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