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Boats, Brawls, and… Lasers? Pete Winning Beams Swashbucklers to the ITV Generation

By Nathan Savin Scott

Just under a year ago, an endearing if not altogether campy indiegogo video launched in support of an Internet TV series about pirates.

Ten seconds into crisscrossing ships and scuffed up maidens with longing expressions on their faces, a handsome pirate suddenly shoots off a laser gun attached to his wrist.

Instead of the usual begging for funds, the promo goes on to describe the sheer machismo of its protagonist, post-apocalyptic pirate Pete Winning, and then the viewer realizes this here is something special; something that’s pure fun. “With testosterone levels at an all-time low, one man defies science and represents all that can be manly,” proclaims a voice in the style of a 1950’s newsreel narration.

The filmmakers’ tongue-in-cheek attitude toward raising money paid off. Today, derived from the award-winning short film, Pete Winning and the Pirates is the most buzzed about ITV series online, with its first episode just having premiered on KoldCast TV.

You are watching Episode 1 of
Pete Winning and the Pirates

The show imagines a not-too-distant future in which a band of roving modern day pirates, led by the charismatic Pete Winning, make their way around the vast sea of a flooded Canada in search of dry land to settle, plunder and pilfer what they can along the way.

Daring, witty, and action-packed, Pete Winning and the Pirates is doing something completely innovative in the ITV world, mixing together disparate genres and actually pulling it off with a grace that only comes when the audience doesn’t notice.

Mashing up the worlds of different genres and especially different time periods has a long tradition in film and television. From Back to the Future to Star Wars, filmmakers and producers have always looked for ways to meld the past and the future. The massive flop that was Cowboys and Aliens sent a collective shudder down sci-fi and adventure fans’ spines. A closer look at how the movie was billed reveals a serious, heavy-handed marketing campaign. In many ways this is the opposite of how Pete Winning and the Pirates, both series and protagonist, view themselves.

When you’re inviting aliens, spaceships, mechanical monsters, fairies, wizards, race cars – any storytelling elements that don’t belong together – to the same party, the glue that keeps them simpatico is levity, a subtle indication that the filmmakers are also in on the joke.

Taking a cue from Johnny Depp’s incorrigible Jack Sparrow, Pete Winning has the ability to make light of his continuous life or death circumstances. Through it all, he never loses his humanity, as evidenced by the frequented backstory of Winning’s true love. She was murdered by another navigator of the futuristic high seas, someone Pete may have to cross paths with again as the series alludes to in Episode 2.

The best example of this comedy sprinkled, genre splicing in television is director Joss Whedon’s (The Avengers) cult-classic TV series Firefly. Though the show was cancelled after one season, it became such a fan favorite that they ended up adapting it into a movie, Serenity. Firefly and Serenity take place in a future where a group of smugglers get into different scrapes across the universe, all while protecting a mysterious girl and her brother.

Instead of asking the audience to imagine a completely novel futuristic world, however, Whedon based the gang and their exploits off classic Western TV tropes. His characters were more or less space cowboys. This is revealed in the opening credits of the show, “Serenity’s Theme,” a rambling guitar and fiddle country western song, juxtaposed with a massive spaceship flying overhead. Whedon knew that by integrating the storylines and moral code of the Wild West, it would allow him to create a richer, deeper world for his characters to inhabit and his audience to love.

Pete Winning and the Pirates uses the same formula, most likely inspired by its space opera predecessor. By using a “world” we already know (pirates!) the added layer of a futuristic setting fits into a more specific and relatable framework. You get all the high-tech fun of sci-fi, but a more traditional pirate story grounds the narrative in a way the audience can understand. From Errol Flynn to Pirates of the Caribbean, we’ve grown to love the pirate code and its various constructs.

Aside from creating shorthand for context, Pete Winning’s combination of past and future makes a subtle social commentary, even if it is clothed in humor. Everyone in the show is essentially an orphan abandoned by the world after it went under, and are now looking for themselves, via a massive search for land, in which no one can be trusted.

Mel Gibson’s first film, Mad Max, was set in a future post-apocalyptic Australia where murderous criminals roam the landscape in modified dune buggies and motorcycles, all searching for gas to keep their vehicles running. This post apocalyptic world was, in part, based on the origin story of Australia, a colony where English criminals were sent to fend for themselves. Likewise, through all the winks and nods, the world Pete Winning inhabits is still bleak and lonely.

When executed delicately and intelligently, the juxtaposition of different genres and time periods creates an irresistible onscreen contrast. As go time machines with DeLoreans, spirituality through spaceships, or in Pete Winning and the Pirates case, laser beams and eye patches, it seems that yes, opposites do attract.

Nathan Savin Scott is a freelance writer who lives in Washington, DC. He has appeared in Newsweek, ESPN, Thought Catalog, and others.

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Must Reads 8/27/2014