written by Hank Steinberg & Steven Kane | directed by Jonathan Mostow
You can tell TNT's summer drama The Last Ship is based on a 1988 novel, because it reeks of that decade's Cold War attitude and US jingoism—despite being updated to a 21st-century setting. You can also tell it's been produced by Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes production company, because it feels like he called in favours with the US Navy and—oh, look—U-571 director Jonathan Mostow is behind the camera for the pilot. Throw in artistes like Rhona Mitra (the poor man's Kate Beckinsale) and Chuck's Adam Baldwin (a Baldwin so low down the sibling's pecking order he's not, um, technically part of Alec's family), and you know exactly what to expect from this slice of summer escapism.
The Last Ship reminded me of ABC's short-lived military drama Last Resort, about a US nuclear submarine that disobeys a direct order to nuke Pakistan and trigger World War Three—but only because both apply a high-concept idea to a standard naval drama. I guess audiences don't want to watch the real-life adventures of submariners and sailors these days (or so networks think), when there's the opportunity to raise the stakes in crazy ways. The Last Ship treads a far less interesting path than Last Resort, as the crew of the USS Nathan James realise they're survivors of a global pandemic that's infected 80% of the population. Commander Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) and his XO Commander Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin) try to keep their homesick crew together and focused, while providing safe haven for improbably sexy virologist Dr Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra), who may be humanity's only chance to find a cure.
The good news regarding The Last Ship is that everything about the fictional naval destroyer feels plausible, and there's a very decent 'helicopter versus battleship' action sequence involving rogue Russians. The premise is bunkum of the highest order, but there's entertainment value in a story that's so obviously preposterous. It's just a shame the script's so uninspired, the dialogue is poor, there are no characters who transcend the ropey material, and it's full of actors you either don't expect much of (who don't disappoint), or have liked in similarly bonkers shows (but now look very bored here). There's a moment when Baldwin's character learns his young son's a victim of the killer virus, and his reaction is on par with someone being told their dental appointment's been brought forward a day.
It could have been a lot worse, sure, because this is exactly the kind of show that might have been complete garbage in lesser hands. Creator Hank Steinberg was responsible for Without a Trace (produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, friend of Bay), and film director Mostow ensures this cable-budgeted pilot passes muster on a visual level. Quite how interested you'll remain over ten weeks is anyone's guess, but the prospect of a post-apocalyptic seaborne drama isn't a fundamentally bad one. There are interesting ideas to explore if society crumbles, and the USS Nathan James becomes a lone beacon of hope and mankind's salvation. I just don't know if the show's good enough to explore all of that territory well; based on the quality of writing demonstrated here, and a cast headed up by Dr "McSteamy" from Grey's Anatomy.