Kristine Froseth as Nan St. George, Alisha Boe as Conchita Closson, Josie Totah as Mabel Elmsworth, Aubri Ibrag as Lizzy Elmsworth, and Imogen Waterhouse as Jinny St. George in 'The Buccaneers.'

This New Gilded Age Drama Is Luring Me In With an Intriguing Premise & Contemporary Pop

While awaiting the Gilded Age season two and still in bittersweet mourning of Sanditon, Apple TV+ decided to give period-drama fans a little surprise. Over a cut of Olivia Rodrigo‘s track “all‐american bitch” the network dropped a trailer for The Buccaneers. The 1870s-set show sounds like a swashbuckling adventure like Our Flag Means Death. Instead, the title looks like play on words used to describe a group friends holding unto the freedoms of childhood and seeking adventure.

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The Buccaneers follows four (or five*), new money American women seeking broke—by rich people’s standards—aristocrats during the London Season. Their introduction into society starts as a stateside affair under the training of an English governesses Laura Testvalley (Simone Kirby). However, their guardians (which includes Christina Hendricks) decide the girls need straightening out. So, chaperones join the women on a trip to England with the mission of finding husbands. This mission serves as a climb up the social ladder and strengthens their status with the Old World/Old Money social capital of holding a title.

These women include Nan St. George (played by Kristine Frøseth), Jinny St. George (Imogen Waterhouse), Conchita Closson (Alisha Boe), alongside Mabel (Josie Totah) and Lizzy Elmsworth (Aubri Ibrag). There’s an asterisk on the above “five” because after watching the trailer four times I realized that this may be a trip for only four of them. Conchita appears in a white dress toasting with the other four in emerald green gowns. Later she looks like she’s embracing them in London and showing them around, as if she was already there and is greeting them. In one of the final shots (2:04), Conchita looks several months pregnant.

Brushing up against expectations

Christina Hendricks as Mrs. St. George in the Gilded Age drama 'The Buccaneers.'
(Apple TV+)

Like Sanditon, The Buccaneers is an ambitious adaption of an unfinished work. Penned by one of history’s most important women authors, Edith Wharton, the novel reflects the social barriers of new money young women. Also a designer, Wharton’s novels are partly responsible for the popularizing of the Gilded Age (1880s) setting in fiction. In 1921, she would become the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for the initially serialized romantic drama The Age of Innocence. Many have adapted this novel across different mediums (including Scorsese in 1993), but few tried with The Buccaneers.

In 1995 PBS Masterpiece and the BBC adapted a five-episode mini-series of The Buccaneers. It was received pretty poorly in the U.K., with a lot of people upset about the presence of sex, homosexuality, and sexual assault. Some audiences thought it was too American with its storybook ending. Others lambasted the story for what they saw as being sensational for shock value. The director and others defended these choices saying it kept in the spirit of the manuscripts, Wharton’s notes, and direction as a writer. Regardless, it’s kind of funny that the criticisms line up with the same afforded to the women of the story. As in they’re too modern, too uncouth, too American and nouveau riche.

Just like Bridgerton?

Kristine Froseth as Nan St. George, Alisha Boe as Conchita Closson, Josie Totah as Mabel Elmsworth, Aubri Ibrag as Lizzy Elmsworth, and   Imogen Waterhouse as Jinny St. George in 'The Buccaneers.'
(Apple TV+)

The Apple trailer already received comparisons to Netflix’s Bridgerton. It’s a shallow comparison and not just because we’re talking about very different themes (as previously mentioned) and time periods. For the U.K., the Regency Era (during the main Bridgerton-timeline) runs from about 1811 to 1820 and is followed by the Victorian Era until 1901. In America, the Gilded Age runs from the late 1870s to 1900-ish. Because time periods are about social, political, and technological circumstances eras for one country/region, they of course overlap with others. Victorian England’s customs’ inherent link to the past is worth something to the new money families of The Buccaneers. That’s partly why having an English (or French) governess and other staff was more impressive than an American one.

Regardless, it’s hard to get mad when casual viewers are working off trailer vibes. Trailers can only get so deep when it’s just trying to sell you the show. Every network is looking for that Bridgerton success. That trickle-down investment leads to other 1800s romances (enter The Buccaneers) getting made! This comparison to Bridgerton wasn’t just in excitement, but also in complaints about The Buccaneers trailer.

While now drowned out by swooning fans, Bridgerton initially received criticism for (among other things) its lack of “authenticity.” People called Bridgerton unfaithful to the Regency romance and author—even with Julia Quinn involved. They cited the pop instrumental covers and diversity as immersion-breaking. (Personally, I think it was the unnecessary in-universe explanation(s) for diversity, but that’s just me.) The few online criticisms of The Buccaneers echoed these complaints about the modernity of its score, same-sex kiss, and racial diversity. Go back and watch the old version, I promise it’s still there (and gay.)

The connective tissue other than bigotry is an unwillingness to adapt to change. It’s honestly not too dissimilar from the Old Money sensibilities. Those that scoff at anything that fails to conform and resemble past values (including whiteness). The main difference though is those complaining online have a bank account that resembles mine—not the Duponts and Astors.

The Buccaneers premieres Wednesday, November 8 on Apple TV+. The first three episodes will air on the 8th with a new episode each week through December 13.

(featured image: Apple TV+)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.