June 29, 2014

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “The Last Ship”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on THE LAST SHIP:  It’s taken just a few months for a new pandemic to decimate the world’s population, and half a million people are still dying every day.  On board the USS Nathan James, which had been cut off from all communication in the Arctic while the disease was raging, scientist Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) has secretly been working on a vaccine, and Commander Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) decides that the safest place for her to perfect it is at sea, since no one knows what the status is of the world’s governments (including that of the US), or who’s still alive.  So the Nathan James will travel from port to port, racing against time and undefined enemies.  Two things they do know:  the virus has been weaponized by person or governments unknown, and the Russians are willing to do anything to get their hands on Dr. Scott and her potential cure.  Also, unbeknownst to all, Dr. Scott’s assistant is a Russki spy.

Episode 2:  THE LAST SHIP moved even farther away from its supposed genre of science fiction by spending most of its second hour on a shootout with Al Queda terrorists.  Written by series co-creator Hank Steinberg and Co-Producer Josh Schaer, and directed by Lost master Jack Bender, the episode took the Nathan James to Guantanamo Bay to refuel and stock up on supplies.  There it turned out that the surviving guards–ridiculously–had simply turned the remaining terrorist prisoners loose, not having imagined, apparently, that members of Al Queda might turn on their guards and try to take control of the supplies.  The result was a series of sequences in which the surprisingly well-groomed terrorists held guns to heads and fired on US soldiers before–of course!–being thoroughly outsmarted by Commander Chandler.  Along the way, Dr. Scott redeemed herself for not having told Chandler earlier about the epidemic by going onshore, risking her own life, to rescue an injured sailor.

The Last Ship is starting to look all too much like it’s following the vision of Executive Producer Michael Bay, for a show that’s all bang-bang and no intelligence whatsoever.  After two hours, there isn’t a single interesting character or relationship, and while Bay himself can get away with that (as the weekend’s box-office returns demonstrate) because he has $200M+ budgets and a bottomless box of digital toys to play with, Last Ship didn’t even have the financial resources of its pilot.  There were no whizzing helicopters or Arctic locations this week, just a generic set of action scenes mostly taking place in and around a warehouse and a parking lot that could just as well have been in Long Beach.

It’s not even fair to talk about the actors, because essentially they all give the same performance:  grim, brave stoicism.  (Except for the traitorous assistant, whose eyes shift around nervously as he plays “Wait, you mean this knob will send poison gas onto the Command Deck?  I had no idea!”)  They all make the right, tough decisions for the good of their sailors and humanity in general, and the show is starting to resemble a recruiting poster or a war movie circa 1953.

The Last Ship‘s premiere 1.2 rating last week was very solid, but far from remarkable given the months of hype that led up to it (last season, the season premiere of Falling Skies had a 1.5 rating in the same timeslot).  If the show continues to be a mechanical string of grade-B action and patriotic cliches, it may soon need a vaccine itself.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  Casualties Are Mounting


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."