These days, TV’s period dramas often look like period dramas — the corsets, the cravats, the pianofortes — but behave like contemporary coming-of-age dramas. They’re as much “Gossip Girl” as they are “Masterpiece.” In “Bridgerton,” “The Great,” and “Dickinson,” among other series, we’ve gotten the same angst, pop soundtrack, diversity, and sexuality that we see in today’s high school and college romances. For some, hearing a rock song played with strings at a royal ball is a bridge too far. For me, the mash-ups have an appeal, particularly as they focus on and question the position of women over the centuries.
The latest addition is Apple TV+’s “The Buccaneers,” which is based very loosely on Edith Wharton’s unfinished final novel. The series has a group of four wealthy young American women, including Nan St. George (Kristine Froseth) and her sister Jinny (Imogen Waterhouse), going to an English manor house to join their American friend, who is newly married and trying to adjust to life across the pond. While there, socializing with the upper crust, they encounter a series of eligible men with titles but no money, hoping to make a lucrative marriage. None of the old-school Brits like these nouveau riche Americans, but alas for them, the money is certainly needed.
Of course some of the women are looking for true love, which is extremely inconvenient. Nan is the focus, and she is sensible and compassionate and not necessarily in the market for romance. But she quickly finds herself in the middle of a love triangle with a duke named Theo (Guy Remmers) and his best friend, Guy (Matthew Broome), a familiar and predictable situation but not necessarily unpleasant to watch. In fact the show delivers many of the conventional tropes of the genre — unrequited love, chilly Darcy types who are in fact noble, and a quick marriage that becomes a nightmare — but it tweaks them with less expected themes involving sexual identity and racism.
“The Buccaneers” also gives its women lives outside of their romantic story lines, where their friendships are a priority. Their bonds, as each of them figures out her own identity, are warm and important to them, and they are loud and often gleeful together. That’s a refreshing element, and it’s a solid foundation for the series, whose eight-episode season ends on a cliffhanger. I’m not going to make a big play to get you to watch “The Buccaneers” if you’re not already inclined to check it out. But fans of this kind of series — you know who you are! — ought to give it a try.