NBC's 'Crossbones' Is About Blackbeard, So 'Bone' Up On Your Pirate Knowledge, Mateys

With everything from vampires to meth dealers populating our airwaves, it was only a matter of time before pirates made the leap to the small screen. And they're about to hit primetime with NBC's newest series, Crossbones , premiering Friday night.

It makes sense. Rescued from decades of obscurity in 2003 by Johnny Depp and his undead crew in Disney's unexpected smash hit Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, pirates are characters perfectly suited to our antihero-obsessed television climate: They're charming, roguish, and sexy, but they're also violent outlaws with little to no moral code. Don Draper. Walter White. Hannibal Lecter. These larger-than-life figures all belong to the same group of captivatingly despicable characters. And now they're welcoming a new member into their fold: Edward Teach (also known as the infamous Blackbeard).

Piracy isn't exactly a subject covered in-depth in most high school history courses, so if your knowledge on the matter is a bit rusty, don't worry — we won't make you walk the plank. Instead, we've provided you with a handy study guide so you can bone up on your pirate knowledge before watching the Crossbones premiere. Without further ado, here's everything you need to know about Edward Teach and NBC's newest drama:

This isn't Black Sails.

"But wait," you may be thinking. "Didn't this whole pirate show thing already happen?" It's true that another very similarly-themed series premiered last Januray: Starz's Black Sails . But as we all know by now, good ideas come in pairs: A Bug's Life and Antz. Armageddon and Deep Impact. The Returned and Resurrection. (And The Returned again. In English this time.) So how can you tell these two swashbuckling shows apart? Easy enough.

Black Sails aired on Starz (a premium cable channel) while Crossbones airs on NBC (a broadcast network). Ergo, if you're seeing intense violence and lots of nudity, chances are you're watching Black Sails, since Crossbones has that pesky FCC to worry about. (Although the show is occupying the same timeslot as the astoundingly gory Hannibal , so maybe it will surprise us all.) The trailer for Crossbones, full of azure-blue waters, colorful costumes, and sets seemingly lifted straight out of Disney's Adventureland, certainly suggests that the network is offering a more family-friendly version of the marauding seamen. It's encouraging to see that the show appears to have a sense of fun, as sashaying pirates can be hard to take seriously.

You Already Sort of Know Edward Teach.

While Black Sails was conceived as a prequel-of-sorts to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Crossbones is a fictionalized account of the life of a very real historical figure: Edward Teach, more commonly known by his alias, Blackbeard.

Blackbeard is perhaps the most famous pirate ever to have terrorized the high seas. He pillaged his way through the West Indies on his dreaded ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge throughout the late 1600s/early 1700s. Despite reportedly being a shrewd leader who rarely relied on the use of force, he worked hard to cultivate an intimidating image: his flag depicted a skeleton spearing a bleeding heart while toasting the devil, and he was infamous for tucking lit fuses into his hat to make it appear as though his head was on fire. (This is why he often looks like he has smoke coming out of his ears in illustrations.)

After a long and storied career (which included earning a royal pardon only to become bored and resume his pirating ways), Blackbeard was killed on November 22, 1718, after the Governor of Virginia dispatched a group of soldiers and sailors to apprehend him.

On Crossbones, this historical figure will be played by none other than eccentric character actor John Malkovich. And judging by the promos, it doesn't look like Malkovich so much chews the scenery as he does swallow it whole (despite not actually having, you know, a black beard).

This clock-thingy is super important.

The plot of Crossbones hinges on this archaic tool, so pay attention — this is crucial stuff. A longitude chronometer, as it's referred to on the show (actually called a 'marine chronometer') is a device invented in the 18th century. Essentially, it's a clock that's "precise enough to be used as a portable time standard." Why is that important? We should probably let Wikipedia explain:

It can therefore be used to determine longitude by means of celestial navigation. When first developed in the 18th century, it was a major technical achievement, as accurate knowledge of the time over a long sea voyage is necessary for navigation, lacking electronic or communications aids.

Still confused? Don't worry, so are we. All you need to know is that the chronometer is really really important, and Blackbeard wants to get his hands on one. Basically, it's the glowing briefcase from Pulp Fiction, except it tells the time. Really accurately. And there are instructions on how to build it. That are written in code. Which Blackbeard needs to decipher. A mysterious artifact everyone is chasing that is used to drive the plot and serves no further purpose? There must be a word for that...

It's based on a book... supposedly.

Crossbones is inspired by Colin Woodard's 2008 non-fiction book, The Republic Of Pirates: Being The True And Surprising Story Of The Caribbean Pirates And The Man Who Brought Them Down. (How's that for a title?) Republic is a well-researched account of the Golden Age of piracy that focuses on New Providence, the colony in the Bahamas created as a refuge for pirates and led by the likes of Blackbeard, Black Sam Bellamy, and Charles Vane. How accurately Crossbones follows the historical events of Republic and how much it merely riffs on its themes remains to be seen. (Although our hunch is that the network is using the term "inspired by" pretty loosely here).

If you want to be the resident expert in your Crossbones viewing party, you can download Republic to your Kindle or Nook right now and read all about Edward Teach and the events that led to his downfall. And in the meantime, shiver your timbers by watching this exciting promo:


Images: NBC (4); Starz