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Whatever you might think of Michael Bay, at least there’s a clarity to what he does. Boom. Stuff blows up.
That’s not a terrible strategy for summer television programming. While higher-end cable fare can still succeed with darker subject matter (Game of Thrones, Fargo, The Bridge, Rectify, etc.), CBS proved with Under the Dome that what the masses really want is “event” programming or, barring a real understanding of what that means, a show where things blow up or get crazy.
In TNT’s The Last Ship, Bay has executive produced a dramatic series that never pretends to be anything more than pure entertainment, and that works for the series right from the start. It also has a compelling premise, based on the book of the same name by William Brinkley: A global pandemic has created a postapocalyptic world in chaos, but one U.S. Navy team has been at sea (and under radio silence orders) for four months and missed the worldwide societal breakdown that followed the outbreak. On board, they are shepherding the scientist who might have the cure — which makes them a huge floating target.
Now, something like The Last Ship has a finite ability to keep the suspense going, but done right (kind of like how The Walking Dead can string out its premise) there’s meat on the bones to carry the action. (That said, in a number of scenes from The Last Ship, you kind of wish the dead — scattered everywhere — would rise and make this thing truly scary).
All told, a weekly story of trying to stay alive and blowing stuff up in the process isn’t a bad way to keep customers coming back. It’s summer, and light entertainment is the rule of the day. TNT knows this formula better than most.
But of course there are drawbacks. The dialog in The Last Ship is pretty damned hokey. Only a Bay series would even attempt to pull off lines like — and I kid you not here — “Revenge is best served cold.” (Gasp!) Which gets this retort: “Let’s eat.”
So, yeah, viewer beware of what you can comfortably tolerate without having something else explode — namely, your own head.
But if we take The Last Ship in the spirit intended, then what’s the harm? I watched three episodes, and at one point said out loud, “Blow up more shit” and within two minutes I got what I wanted. Hard to fault a series for that.
Eric Dane plays the ship’s commanding officer, Tom Chandler, who basically stands there square-jawed giving orders and reminding his depleted crew of survivors that they’ve got a mission to complete — not just for America, but for the world. Russia will probably be pleased that after years of being ignored for Middle Eastern bad guys, it’s now back in vogue as the Big Bad (although, al-Qaeda pops its head up in one episode as well). Maybe we’ll get some Nazis in the fourth episode?
Supporting Dane in The Last Ship is Adam Baldwin as XO Mike Slattery and Rhona Mitra as Dr. Rachel Scott, formerly a kind of annoying tag-along for the ship and now clearly the world’s savior. The doctor was obviously lying about he reasons for being there — studying birds and whatnot. The deception rubs CO Chandler the wrong way because there can only be one big chin on that ship, and it rubs XO Slattery the wrong way because has the doctor told the crew what she knew about the pandemic, they might have been able to say their last goodbyes to family.
But once this trio get a grip on what’s happened (admittedly, probably a little too quickly given that the world as we know it is over), they can work on staying afloat and getting the cure to the right places. What’s going to impede them? Peril. Danger. Stuff attacking them. That’s what you want to see in the summer. That’s what Bay and his people are giving TNT viewers — drama sans shoe-gazing. Introspection is for Mad Men — we don’t have time to talk about things. We need action.
Sure, there are times when The Last Ship plays like an extended ad for the Navy — in fact there are scenes were the guns on the battleship are rotated around ominously and then fired off in an echo of a real-life Navy commercial. But that’s also to be expected. Bay loves the military. It’s all part of the buy-in. And, to be fair, if you don’t know what you’re getting into here, that’s on you.
While The Last Ship won’t be for viewers who want a lot of complexity and good writing, its predictability — ka-boom! — is not exactly a detriment in the summer. In fact, it might be the selling point. It’s hot outside — don’t make our heads hurt with effort. Just blow something up and let’s get to saving humanity already.
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