Apple TV’s ‘The Buccaneers’ Review: Sad and Convoluted, but Worth Watching

Apple TV's The Buccaneers official poster featuring all the main women.

Romance is a big deal—it’s a popular genre and an excellent one at that. There’s a reason Netflix’s Bridgerton is a mass success. There’s also a reason why romance is the number one selling genre in literature. People want happy endings, and people want to watch compelling stories that end well. With this in mind, it’s necessary to state that Apple TV’s The Buccaneers is not a romance, at least not where the first season is concerned, and much of that is evident from the first three episodes. Based on the unfinished novel by Edith Wharton, there’s much riding on what series creators choose to do. And if PBS’ Sanditon is any indication, well, it depends entirely on who you ask.

Apple TV’s The Buccaneers stars a large ensemble cast featuring Kristine Froseth, Alisha Boe, Josie Totah, Imogen Waterhouse, Aubri Ibrag, Josh Dylan, Guy Remmers, Matthew Broome, Mia Threapleton, Christina Hendricks, and more. Where the cast and the performances are concerned, the show does incredibly well. Everyone here understands the assignment, but what’s unclear is whether the show knows what it wants to be and how it wants to get there. This can turn out to be a romantic love story in the end, but it’ll be more akin to a CW production than a memorable anthology series that focuses on romance and the perils of the time concurrently.

Nan St. George, Guy Thwarte, and Theo Duke of Tintagel in Apple TV's The Buccaneers.
©Apple TV+

The reason romance novels do well and why a show like Bridgerton continues to top the charts is because the focus is always, first and foremost, on romance. Now, there are hundreds and thousands of romance novels out in the world that simultaneously focus on friendships and families as well, making the narrative that much more riveting. Apple TV’s The Buccaneers could’ve gone in this route by allowing each season to tell one story as opposed to throwing everything into one mixing bag and continuing to shake it around.

The modernization is completely fine at times (especially in one instance that features a Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers song) but incredibly questionable at others. The music doesn’t always hit, and that’s often frustrating when you’re someone who looks to needle drops for necessary emphasis on the cutthroat emotions. Still, where the series fumbles most is in its high stakes that never once let the characters breathe or grow or question. It’s go-go-go-go right from the start, and while it ensures viewers will press play on the next episode, it’s sad to think executives underestimate just how quickly people would be willing to watch something quieter and more intimate.

L-R Conchita, Mabel, Nan, Lizzy, and Jinny in Apple TV's The Buccaneers.
©Apple TV+

In truth, there are a lot of fascinating characters to get to know, but because the series thrusts them all toward one dramatic subplot after another, we lose precious time to understand the traits that will undoubtedly make them more likable. This isn’t to say that there aren’t quiet moments, but they make for some of the best scenes, so it’s easy to want more. At the same time, while the series focuses on theatrics, it loses sight of the themes that matter. And as many people might guess, there is indeed a love triangle, which isn’t something many of us want to watch in the year of our Lord 2023.

Apple TV’s The Buccaneers underscores many of the perils of the time, focusing a few instances on how oppressed women are and why their struggles are seldom understood. It shows viewers how toxic masculinity isn’t just a few spoken words but a dangerous, deeply damaging tragedy that leaves bruises and scars that nothing can improve. It’s a series about mothers and daughters and sisters and friends, trying their absolute hardest to find security at a time where there’s very little of it, even with the spouses they are meant to trust. And as the trailer showcases, there’s even a sweet LGBTQ+ relationship between two girls, but it’s hard to say how the show will grant them a happy ending when the period isn’t welcoming or accepting of queer joy.

Still of the women toasting in The Buccaneers.
©Apple TV+

It features romantic moments and deeply heartbreaking showcases of adoration, but it’s still not a romance. It’s not focusing on the kind of romance people read and watch to find an escape. There’s a profound amount of heartache that leads to revealing the importance of their friendships, but for a first season, it still almost doesn’t feel as satisfying. In a day and age of cancelations, strikes, and AI threatening creativity, it’s hard to trust that we’ll get happy endings at the end. And perhaps we will—perhaps, I can bite my tongue, but I’m generally someone who’s taken aback by drama for the sake of drama to feel as though the aftermath is rewarding.

It bears noting that Apple TV’s The Buccaneers is still captivating in some areas, especially when the series allows itself to lean into friendships and the idea of found families. There are tear-jerker moments that hit in all the right ways, bringing forth riveting performances and thoroughly satisfying writing that blend beautifully. The show is excellent in some areas, but it’s certainly not the romp we hoped for when the trailer debuted. It’s sad, convoluted, and dreary at times, and whether it becomes something grand depends entirely on whether the creators are bold enough to leave us with happy endings that feel right and earned.

The Buccaneers will begin streaming on Apple TV+ starting November 8.


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