June 23, 2014

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “The Last Ship”


THE LAST SHIP:  Sunday 9PM on TNT – If Nothing Else Is On…

Post-apocalypses are a dime a dozen on television these days, so a new one had better be something special.  The one in TNT’s new THE LAST SHIP arrives by way of a generic new plague that isn’t as scary or original as it needs to be.  Set in the more-or-less present, the series, created by Hank Steinberg and Steve Kane, from a novel by William Brinkley, is virtually all set on the USS Nathan James, a Navy vessel that’s been cut off from all communication with the outside world during a secret Arctic mission that lasts several months.  The ship’s Captain, Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) believes that the reason for the tight security is that the James was testing out new weapons, and he and the rest of the crew think little about the civilian scientists (Rhona Mitra and Sam Spruell) who are aboard supposedly to examine some arctic birds in their native habitat.

The scientists, of course, are the key to everything.  What Chandler finally learns is that a mysterious virus has infected over half the world–and everyone who gets infected dies.  The birds are the carriers of the natural form of the disease, and Dr. Rachel Scott (Mitra) believes she and her colleague can use their samples to create a vaccine and save the world.  While that would seem to be a good thing for just about everyone, soon enough Russian helicopters (supposedly renegade) are firing on them, and Scott realizes that the virus has been weaponized by persons unknown.  Although Chandler has been ordered by the President to bring the scientists home, it’s not clear that the US still has a functioning government, or that the sailors’ families are still alive (although Chandler’s apparently is), so the Captain decides that the safest place for Scott and her partner is on the open seas.

The world is going to end!” aside, there’s little that’s dramatically exciting about this premise as a continuing series.  Although there will doubtless be twists and turns regarding possible traitors in their ranks (the kicker to the pilot announces one of those), and plenty of opportunities for violent confrontations with those who want to stand in their way, for the most part the idea seems to be that the ship will lurch from location to location, picking up supplies and trying to figure out the best way to proceed, while the scientists attempt to use their makeshift lab to create the antidote.  Although the plotline is technically “science-fiction,” the show’s genre appears to be much more of a military action series–certainly to a greater extent than Last Ship‘s companion show Falling Skies.

Hence TNT’s marketing campaign being keyed to the presence of non-writing Executive Producer Michael Bay.  But apart from the obvious fact that Bay is neither writing nor directing the series (not even the pilot), the presence of an extended commercial for the new Transformers in tonight’s broadcast just served as a reminder that Bay’s movies succeed despite often vapid scripts and flat performances because of their sheer spectacle–whatever one may think of Bay, he’s awfully good at the things he does well–and nothing like that scale is possible on a TV budget, despite the extensive cooperation the show has gotten from the US Navy.  (The size of the one major sequence in the pilot, the Russian helicopter attack, is unlikely to be repeated very often in the course of the season, and even that was only moderately impressive.)   Jonathan Mostow, the feature filmmaker who did direct the pilot (his nautical experience includes the movie U-571). keeps things moving crisply, but he can’t supply depth or scope that isn’t there.

In the absence of that kind of spectacle, TV shows need strong writing and character.  Steinberg and Kane’s writing, though, is only functional.  Dane isn’t able to use any of this Grey’s Anatomy charm in this square-jawed hero role, and Mitra, while intense, went to the fashion model school of paleomicrobiology. Even Adam Baldwin, a constant delight as the grumpy macho sidekick on Chuck, has little to do but look supportive of his Captain.  The rest of the characters made little impression in the pilot.

The Last Ship seems to be OK entertainment for those whose tastes go to the military, but with little to attract others–and that includes sci-fi fans.  Given the resources TNT has invested in its marketing, it’s due for a big start; however, the length of the Nathan James’s voyage is more questionable.


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."