Stay Tuned: Come aboard ‘The Last Ship’ - no thinking required
By Melissa Crawley
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My favorite line of the pilot episode of TNT’s new drama “The Last Ship” is said by Naval Commander Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) to Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra). After spending four months in the arctic sea under radio silence conducting what turns out to be meaningless naval exercises, Chandler discovers that 80 percent of the world’s population is infected with a deadly virus that Dr. Scott and her partner are on board his ship trying to cure. He says: “Are you telling me the whole world is dying and they sent two people to save it?”
Exactly what I was thinking. It’s a preposterous idea, but having Chandler express it is a way to pre-empt the viewer’s doubts, because seriously? But just go with it. “The Last Ship” is light on deep thoughts, but it has enough action, heroes and villains to keep you entertained this summer. Think of it as the TV version of the “beach read.”
Scott believes that the virus’ primordial strain will enable her to create a vaccine. Just as she finishes pulling samples from the ice, bad Russians drop from helicopters to kill her and steal her work. Cue the explosions and gunfire. Later, Chandler is told by what’s left of the U.S. government to return to American shores, but things don’t go as planned and he orders his crew to stay on the ship. This decision doesn’t sit well with many of the crew, who want to disembark and find their loved ones, but it particularly angers XO Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin), who receives a message that his son has died but the rest of his family is alive, for now.
The crew’s confusion and doubt along with violent attacks from outside forces are familiar conflicts, particularly if you watched “The Last Resort,” a now cancelled show about another lone ship sailing in dangerous waters. Also familiar are the characters, none of whom have traits that will surprise you. Chandler gives inspiring speeches and makes hard decisions. Slattery’s anger threatens to upset the balance of power. Scott is tough and intensely focused. Richly layered, they are not. But, as expected from a show executive produced by Michael Bay (“Transformers”), the storylines are helped by action-packed visuals and the actors play to their strengths which means the characters are developed enough to keep you interested, if not intrigued. Told over ten episodes, the concept shouldn’t wear itself out, as it might if it were a longer series.
“The Last Ship” isn’t going to deeply explore the political issues surrounding a global pandemic but it doesn’t entirely ignore them. It just makes them simple and adds a good dose of patriotism: A British doctor working for the United States is trying to save the world while members of the American Navy protect her from the Russians. When she discovers that the virus has been artificially altered, the political stakes are even higher. It’s not a bad twist, but I was sort of hoping for a zombie mutation.
“The Last Ship” is on Sundays at 9 p.m. EDT on TNT.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.