There’s a definite draw to a good costume drama, evident by the sheer popularity of the Netflix Bridgerton series. From the remixed string orchestration of a Taylor Swift song to the hand flex of Mr. Darcy in 2005’s Pride & Prejudice, these sweeping romances have long stood the test of time. It makes the existence of The Buccaneers, adapted from the novel of the same name by Edith Wharton, a no-brainer. That said, while the Apple TV series adopts some of the necessary beats such as the vibrant set designs and intricate costuming that speaks to each individual character’s personality, it lacks the necessary charisma or chemistry that bolsters other series of its ilk. The Buccaneers Episodes 1–3 aims for the feminist twist on classic storytelling but the result is vapid and tiresome.
In theory, the series should be a certifiable hit, but it’s hindered by perfunctory writing and shallow performances that do little to elevate thin characterizations. Nan (Kristine Froseth) is our heroine—obvious from her penchant for walking around barefoot and her unruly hair. Her character lightly narrates the series, at least at the start, noting that she was “never meant to be the main character.” The line screams protagonist. She’s surrounded by her sister, Jinny (Imogen Waterhouse), and her friends, led by the firecracker Conchita (Alisha Boe), all of whom rebuke societal norms for young women. That is, until love is in play. Set in the 1870s, these young American women are soon sent to London to secure husbands and titles, meeting pushback from the more tight-lipped as well as a culture clash as they seek romance and youthful abandon.
In the moments of frivolity when the group of characters simply exist in their feminine camaraderie The Buccaneers Episodes 1–3 almost work. This is held back by writing that leans heavily into drawing out the obvious by making sure anything that might be observed from images alone is then doubled down on through dialogue-heavy exposition. The direction, however, by Susanna White paints with a subtle touch. This is especially true in Episode 2, when the tone grows exceedingly darker. The move works at odds with the story we were first introduced to. But White captures the contrast of the group’s light and fun young adulthood with the pain and exploitation one character experiences at the hands of a man who sees women as little more than objects—if even that.
There’s a lot introduced in the first three episodes, from secret liaisons, pre-marital pregnancies, and an obvious series villain. Greater still, there’s the weight of fraying friendships as the expectations and pressure of the London societal scene bare heavy on the shoulders of these young women. It’s a lot to front-load the series with, especially when some of the strongest moments are the quietest, such as a friendly exchange and burgeoning relationship on a seashore.
For a show that is so committed to romance, there’s very little of it. Or, rather, very little that’s convincing. There are marriages and engagements and a protagonist with not one but two potential suitors and even still, the chemistry between them all is severely lacking. While Bridgerton gave us the electricity of Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor and then Jonathan Bailey and Simone Ashley, there’s not a single actor in The Buccaneers that delivers something memorable. Christina Hendricks as Nan and Jinny’s mother holds up the best, but even she isn’t given enough to do.
It’s a shame because, again, there’s plenty here that would be a draw for fans of the genre. The touches of modernity in the soundtrack are inspired, taking a page out of the Sofia Coppola rule book of how to present girlhood in any era. And while the delivery is undoubtedly clunky there are moments where the feminist point of view lands, especially when Nan observes how her sister and friends are looked over as if prizes to be bought. But for all these small bright spots, which include the aforementioned costuming and set design, there’s yet to be a storyline that truly captures interest, be it romantic, familial, or otherwise.
Still, here’s hoping that after a shaky beginning, the series takes a turn and exceeds initial expectations. For now, however, The Buccaneers Episodes 1–3 deliver a lackluster costume drama that awkwardly bridges modern touches with classic language and framework. It needs a little more spark and considerable charisma to be more than just a parade of exquisite costumes. We need to care about the characters wearing them too.
The Buccaneers Episodes 1–3 are available now on Apple TV+
The Buccaneers Episodes 1–3
The Buccaneers Episodes 1–3 deliver a lackluster costume drama that awkwardly bridges modern touches with classic language and framework. It needs a little more spark and considerable charisma to be more than just a parade of exquisite costumes. We need to care about the characters wearing them too.