Imagine for a moment that it is Saturday morning and you are mildly hungover. Not so badly that you’re in physical distress, but enough to justify forgetting any errands you had planned and spending the day on the couch watching television. What are you watching? For me, the answer is always going to be a history documentary of questionable intellectual rigor, preferably hosted by a very average-looking academic. Bonus points if they traipse around some ruins in sensible shoes. Extra bonus points if they use dramatic reenactments that have the budget of community theater. This is the absolute zenith of comforting programming—long the domain of the British, who have perfected it—and I am pleased to see Netflix has embraced it with their latest outing, a six-part docuseries about pirates.
The Lost Pirate Kingdom is everything I want in pop history: it’s fun, melodramatic, and full of conclusions that are almost certainly unsupported by the facts. Were pirates proto-revolutionaries interested in disrupting the social order in pursuit of liberation for the economically disadvantaged, women, and enslaved people? No! But what the makers of The Lost Pirate Kingdom propose is…. wouldn’t that make for a more exciting television program? It does.
The show is narrated by legendary British thespian Derek Jacobi, whose wry and winking sensibility takes the material just seriously enough. Granted, I would listen to Jacobi narrate the terms of service for my Instagram account, but he is particularly well-suited for this kind of rousing adventure through history. The re-enactors are all delightful, as they drink and carouse and swashbuckle in front of laughably ineffective special effects.
The whole thing is perfect because it gives me precisely what I want in this sort of endeavor: the feeling of learning things without the burden of actually processing and retaining any new information. It is such a pleasant sensation to have something that seems like knowledge wash over you and leave nothing of itself behind. I have been cleansed in the waters of the 18th-century Caribbean, and I feel well.
Please, Netflix, make more documentaries like Pirate Kingdom. I will watch all of them. There is nothing I love more than saying to people “oh I just watched a great documentary on the Byzantine empire” and having them think that means I know things about the Byzantine empire.