The Last Ship Series Premiere Review: Military Porn and Not Much More
There are few people in the entertainment industry whose names are synonymous with a certain type of content quite like Michael Bay's. Close your eyes and think of the name "Michael Bay." What do you see? Explosions. Maybe a mass of twisted metal. Cheap romance. A slow-mo walk away from a giant fireball. 'Merica, F yeah. Though Bay is attached to TNT's The Last Ship only as executive producer, he may as well have lit the fuse of the new drama all on his own, because it feels like Michael Bay: The Series.
Bay's pyrotechnic affinities generally make for fun—albeit dumb and thoughtless—big-screen diversions that are largely forgettable once viewers leave the movie theater. But that style doesn't translate to the small screen, where dialogue and patience are key to the pacing of a 10-hour story that develops over several months. The Last Ship strips Bay of one of his typical luxuries—a summer-blockbuster budget—and asks its audience to be satisfied with special effects that could be produced with an iPhone app. What we're left with is a show that's watched too many bad action movies cobbled elements from them all together into one bad action series.
Oh, but wait! There is a story to The Last Ship, as the show is based on the 1988 William Brinkley novel of the same name. Except TNT's version adds an element so large that the show and the book may as well only share a name. Here's what we're stuck with for 13 episodes: A viral outbreak (not in the book) that began in Egypt (we know it was Egypt due to a helicopter shot of the Pyramids) was making the world a crummy place to live, and a Naval Destroyer on a four-month training mission in the Arctic was fortunately (and perhaps conspiratorially) quarantined by its remote location, leaving the crew as mankind's only hope to find a cure. On board the ship were one tough-as-balls captain, Commander Tom Chandler (Eric Dane), one sexy scientist (Rhona Mitra) who knows more about the virus than anyone, and a bunch of America's finest seamen.
We were quickly informed that 80 percent of the world's population was killed off by the virus by going from Phase 2 to Phase 6! Phase 6! That's much higher than Phase 2! And the sexy scientist (whose name is Dr. Scott, btw) was sneakily placed on the boat to find a primordial strain of the virus from birds in the icy north. Or something. Who cares, blow some more shit up, The Last Ship!
"Phase Six" unfolded as plainly and predictably as can be, with a montage of a world in chaos, Chandler staring at a picture of his family, and for some reason, a nuclear warhead exploding somewhere in the United Kingdom. Normally, the detonation of a nuclear weapon would be something to talk about, but these toughies just moved on and raided a cruise ship. Nuke? Who cares, let's snag a few cans of tomato soup from this abandoned boat! Who launched a weapon of mass destruction and why? Was it to stop the spread of the virus? Was it retaliation for something else? I guess our confusion falls in line with the people on the boat not knowing what's going on in the rest of the world, but it sure is a pain. The bomb going off wasn't even a real plot device, it just sorta happened.
We would later realize that the world had continued to die and there might be no left out there, so Chandler decided that the best way to make his story worthy of a TV series would be to stay on the ship and let the scientists work on a cure while they sailed to different spots on the globe that might have gas and supplies. Oh, and one of the scientists, the extra-foreign one, is *DUN DUN* working for someone else. And that's how this TNT show was born.
I'm not sure The Last Ship's opener did the best job of establishing a real conflict. Yes the foreign scientist is working for the bad guys, but we don't know who the bad guys are yet. Currently, the only real enemy is the virus, and it's kind of hard to get excited about launching a war on microbes. Or radiation. There's a reason we get excited for alien-invasion shows: because we'll slog through an hour of bad dialogue and hang out with thin characters in order to get a peek at the alien. But the only thing we can look forward to with the virus on The Last Ship is a microscope slide. Helix and The Walking Dead, which are also dramas about viruses, are better suited for television because said viruses manifest as scary dudes with black goo dripping from their faces and flesh-eating zombies, respectively. But aboard The Last Ship, the threat of the virus is kind of limited to, "Hey we can't go over there, there are viruses!" And given that the virus can't be seen but can exist anywhere, The Last Ship's writers can use it as a lazy loophole to get out of pretty much anything. The series' best hope of succeeding is as a survival show, but even survival shows drag on without a tangible threat. At the outset, The Last Ship feels like Falling Skies without aliens... and on a boat.
The Last Ship isn't going to be good, but it could be passable entertainment if it finds a way to tell compelling stories via its obvious and inevitable weekly plots (we need gas! We need food! We need to stop this mutiny! Private Johnson got infected! Johnson's privates got infected!). Unfortunately, the stale writing in "Phase Six" didn't leave me very hopeful. The Last Ship is only what it needs to be to work on a base level: a bunch of glamour shots filmed from a helicopter to showcase military porn, shaky camera work following the hectic operations that take place on board a Navy Destroyer, and a stonewall of a captain who makes faces like he hasn't a proper squat in days. Oh whatever, just blow some stuff up and I'll tune in every once in a while.
THE LAST NOTES
– The romance between the two lieutenants who made out in a janitor's closet at the beginning of the episode was never brought up again. I WANT TO KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH THESE TWO LOVEBIRDS!
– Dane is playing Chandler as such a hard dude that the character is a vacuum of personality.
– SNOWMOBILE JUMP! Vroom!
– Those Russian helicopters were pretty bad shots when it came to shooting at scientists and snowmobiles, but when they went after the Destroyer, they nailed it over and over. And the USS Nathan James must be one tough boat, because direct hits from the choppers didn't even knock over a coffee mug.
– I didn't expect The Last Ship to have any of the strong female presence we saw in the pilot, with a female president of the United States (after the original president died) and a lesbian officer on the ship.
– Overreaction of the Day goes to that one guy who shot himself in the head after breaking his helmet on the cruise ship. Umm, dude. Why not wait a few minutes to see if there's another option instead of being so pessimistic ? At least spend the last moments of your healthy life running around naked on a luxury cruise ship and doing shots off an ice luge on the buffet table. Or maybe try to put your helmet back on? I dunno.
– Why does an officer need permission to salute the captain?
What'd you think of The Last Ship's premiere? Will you be back for Episode 2?
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