Philip Winchester -- one of those long-haired young actors who resembles any number of long-haired young actors whom you can't quite place -- picks up the arguably plum part of Crusoe where whoever last played it left off. Although NBC publicity indicates that the story will be told in a straightforward, linear way that's essentially faithful to the structure of the novel, when we meet Crusoe tonight he's already stranded, already settled into his homemade home and clearly quite comfortable in the alien surroundings. He has also befriended Friday, the genial English-speaking native.
Friday (Tongayi Chirisa) was apparently expelled from the island's resident tribe of troublemakers to which he formerly belonged, and whose other members devote themselves -- perhaps out of boredom -- to making Crusoe's life a living heck.
"Where you go, I go," Friday says in a touching expression of fidelity, but mere moments later, to assure viewers that there is nothing submissive in the man's relationship to Crusoe, Friday indignantly reminds his beachcomber pal, "I am not your slave!" Even so, it's clear who's the star of the island, and of the show, and who gets second billing; if the producers really wanted to spruce up "Crusoe" and justify retelling the tale, why not do something provocative such as reversing the racial roles, so that Crusoe is the gentleman of color and Friday the European-complected one? Alas, they weren't thinking that audaciously.
Besides, the element that most obviously inspired the producers to dig Crusoe up again was the huge global success of the Johnny Depp "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. Scarcely five minutes into tonight's show, it stops being about loneliness when the island is invaded by a gang of raggle-taggle, sloppy-boppy pirates looking for bounty, or is it booty, and brandishing gold teeth and acres of tattooing.
Good grief, another buried treasure? Yes, another buried treasure.
To relieve the claustrophobia that viewers might experience from being trapped on the island with the actors, the adventures are punctuated with flashbacks, including memories of Crusoe's ladylove back in England, which allows for a much-needed feminine presence. Sam Neill shows up in the flashbacks, too, snarling and sulking in his nasty-villain mode, apparently destined to become ever more villainous as the weeks go by in the role of Crusoe's mentor.