Black Sails vs Da Vinci’s Demons
For this installment of Showdown! I take a look at Starz’s two current original scripted programs: Black Sails and Da Vinci’s Demons.
Black Sails debuted in January of 2014 under the production of Jonathan E. Steinberg, Michael Bay, and others. Written as a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island, the show includes fictional characters from the novel as well as real life figures such as Charles Vane, Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny and Benjamin Hornigold. Black Sails centers around different pirate crews and residents of New Providence Island in the West Indies who all have different goals but most want to find the famed Spanish treasure galleon Urca de Lima. Crews are betrayed, alliances tested, and battles fought as everyone attempts to carve a living out of a harsh world.
Da Vinci’s Demons, which premiered in April of 2013, is David S. Goyer’s fictional account of Leonardo da Vinci’s early life during the Italian Renaissance. Leonardo’s brilliance and talent gets him embroiled in the long standing feud between the Medicis of Florence and Pazzi family and Catholic Church of Rome. All the while, Leonardo and his friends are searching for the mysterious Book of Leaves which is said to be able to shape the future. Leonardo must deal with traitors, thieves, murderers, and trials of all sorts in order to accomplish his quest. At the end of the day, both are new and interesting takes on old ideas and it really comes down to each viewer’s personal preference.
Cast and Characters:
Black Sails has a large cast with many starring roles including Hannah New as Eleanor Guthrie, Toby Stephens as Captain James Flint, Luke Arnold as John Silver, Jessica Parker Kennedy as Max, Tom Hopper as William “Bones” Manderly and Zach McGowan as Captain Charles Vane. The characters are broken into into residents of the island and the different pirate crews. Sultry Captain Vane leads one crew with the clever Jack and silent-but-deadly Anne Bonny while Captain Flint commands the other crew, made up of Billy Bones, Gates, and more. Both crews have run-ins with the slippery John Silver as they attempt to locate the treasure galleon Urca de Lima. Then there is Eleanor Guthrie, the owner of the Island’s tavern and pretty much the lady in charge, as well as her right-hand-man Mr. Scott, and prostitute lover Max. I give the show props for showing deep relationships of all kinds and between all types of people. These characters are constantly scheming against each other and then working together in an intricate web of piracy.
Da Vinci’s Demons stars Tom Riley as the famous Leonardo Da Vinci as well as Laura Haddock as Lucrezia Donati, Blake Ritson as Count Girolamo Riario, Elliot Cowan as Lorenzo de’ Medici and Lara Pulver as Clarice Orsini. Leonardo Da Vinci is the clear star of the show and he’s often accompanied by his dashing best friend Zoroaster and sidekicks Nico and Vanessa. He works for the Medici family, brothers Lorenzo and Giulano, as they plot to stop the Pazzi family from taking control of Florence. Lucrezia is the lead female of the show; she’s Lorenzo’s lover and a Pazzi spy who ends up falling in love with Da Vinci. The characters in the show are great, if not typical. They’re all well-written and play well off each other, but we’ve seen each of these types of characters before. There is nothing particularly new (with the exception of the young Da Vinci, whose mind is a wonder to explore) about these Renaissance relationships so the point here goes to the more creative Black Sails.
Winner: Black Sails
Fights and Feuds:
Starz is known for it’s realism and bloody action scenes, and neither of these shows disappoint. Black Sails gives us murderers, fist-fights, and epic sea-battles between pirate ships. The feuding isn’t always clear, however, as alliances change so swiftly in the show. As for Da Vinci’s Demons, we have a clear divide between the Medici’s and the Pazzi’s and a few scenes stick out as action-packed. We also get to see Da Vinci’s experiments and inventions in action, which provide for some great elements of both drama and comedy. While both shows give us some great action moments, Da Vinci’s Demons presents us with a less muddled feud and more brains over brawn when it comes to it’s fight scenes.
Winner: Da Vinci’s Demons
Black Sails is filmed at Cape Town Film Studios in Cape Town, South Africa with local production company Film Afrika. Each ship built for the show is immaculately detailed, taking over 300 workers to build. Da Vinci’s Demons is filmed in Wales at Swansea, Neath, Port Talbot and Margam Castle. Multiple sets were built to resemble 15th century Florence. Starz has a knack for good production value and both shows make you feel like you’re trapped in the dirty worlds of the characters. I can’t really say either is better than the other, which is a testament to the network’s commitment to detail.
Both shows have pretty detailed plot-lines and admittedly, both can be very confusing at times. I remember having to stop and look up something during at least one visit of each program. Having an intricate story can be a good thing, so long as the audience can follow along with ease, which isn’t always the case with these shows. Regardless, both shows have delivered on their promised story-lines from the beginning, with both Season 1 finales ending in a climax that moves the story forward. Captain Flint is still looking for the Urca and Da Vinci is still searching for the Book of Leaves, yet both have gotten a bit closer to their goals than they were in the beginning. Both shows provide us with fascinating and well-told stories so the difference here comes down to the clarity of character goals. There are so many characters in Black Sails, it is sometimes difficult to understand each one’s motives and the writers sometimes bite off more than they can chew. With Da Vinci’s Demons, on the other hand, we know from the get-go what these people want and what they’re willing to do to achieve it. That small detail is enough to give Demons a slight edge in execution.
Winner: Da Vinci’s Demons
I quite enjoy watching both Black Sails and Da Vinci’s Demons. Pirate exploits and Italian geniuses are both equally fascinating and Starz’s dedication to production value and superb casting is reflected in both programs. In the end, both shows are worth watching but Da Vinic’s Demons will leave you less confused and more engaged.
Overall Winner: Da Vinci’s Demons