& lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & very episode of Pirate Master begins with a propulsive orchestral flourish. Heavy on deep, insistent strings, blaring horns and thundering timpani, it's meant to convey a visceral sense of swashbuckling adventure. To this end too, producer Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice) and company have swaddled the simple Survivor-like premise of contestants fighting for treasure in an ornate, ridiculous and utterly fake Caribbean mythos. The 16 contestants are placed aboard a pirate ship and given clues to various spectacular treasures via "the recently discovered Chest of Zanzibar." The chest originally belonged to "legendary pirate captain Henry Steele" but now lies in the hands of this crew of blah blah blah.
The game itself, though, has a sharp-edged brilliance. Rather than having a lump sum prize for the winner at the end of competition, Pirate Master's money is meted out week by week. The ship has a captain, voted to power by the crew. The captain picks two mates. These three split the lion's share of the loot, dividing the rest among the crew. The captain decides what to do with his share, obviously, but spreading it around is wise because a dissatisfied crew can mutiny at any time. The winner, presumably, will be the one who is best able to exploit his opponents while keeping them complacent.
Though neither the producers nor contestants have things locked down yet (the producers picked morons; the morons don't grasp the nuances of corruption), the show has already offered cultural insight. Two players have held the captainship through most of the first six episodes. The first, Joe Don, was a slothful moron who hoarded the gold and didn't do any work. Dreadlocked yoga junky Azmyth, the latest captain, learned from Joe Don's mistakes at first, splitting the gold evenly. He too, though, has recently begun dipping more liberally into the winnings. This pisses people off.
"That blue coat changes people," said Joy last week, right before she got kicked off. Despite widespread dissatisfaction with everyone who's worn the captain's jacket, though, none of the deckhands has managed a mutiny. John tried in Episode One and failed. Since then the people grumble, but never cease to fall in line. Faced with staggering income disparity, and knowing they have the power to topple their tyrant, the hoi polloi do nothing.
Pirate Master, then, decoupages a lot of gaudy artifice onto a pervasive power structure: The rich get richer, the poor swab la poupe deck.
Flight of the Conchords
New Zealand's favorite comedy folk band gets a weekly half-hour chock-full of dark musical comedy touching brilliantly on the hipsterish ability to be both painfully cool and a hopeless loser. Outside that trope, the show's moderately funny but needs tightening. (Sundays, 10:30 pm, HBO)
American Body Shop
Can't decide whether this is one year late or three. Ostensibly a satire on the cottage genre gear-head documentaries spawned entirely by American Chopper's wild, unexpected popularity, it'd seem a whole lot funnier if anyone still cared about that show. Then again, no one cares about W, and yet we have Lil Bush. Business as usual for Comedy Central, then. (Sundays, 10:30 pm, Comedy Central)
The Bronx Is Burning
In the summer of 1977, New York was on fire. The heat was sweltering and caused extended blackouts. The city was going bankrupt. A serial murderer was on the loose. The Bronx Is Burning is an eight-hour miniseries dramatizing how the city was saved by New York Yankees baseball. God bless America, and God bless you, Mr. Steinbrenner. (Tuesdays, 10 pm, ESPN)