Michael Bay is a busy guy. For all of his other failings, let it never be said that the man is a slacker. The same week as his latest robo-carnage ‘Transformers’ sequel hits theaters, Bay also has a new TV series (his second of the year) premiering on TNT. ‘The Last Ship’ looks more overtly Bay-like than Starz’s pirate adventure ‘Black Sails’. It’s even based on a book that some people say is pretty good. Just how well does the Michael Bay aesthetic translate to the small screen?
Here’s the pitch: The Navy destroyer U.S.S. Nathan James, captained by Commander Tom Chandler (Eric “McSteamy” Dane), is sent on a mission to the arctic circle for a covert weapons test. Also on board is CDC virologist Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra), who allegedly needs to be ferried to the North Pole to study arctic terns, but really has a much more serious secret agenda to test the primordial strain of a super-virus that was discovered beneath the permafrost. (It doesn’t take much effort to deduce that melting of the ice caps due to global warming has unearthed the virus, but that is never explicitly stated in the pilot episode.)
After four months of strict radio silence, the ship re-establishes contact with the mainland and turns to head home – only to learn that the world is a very different place since the crew left. The virus has wiped out 80% of the human population. Governments have collapsed. Both the President and Vice President of the United States are dead, and the ship loses contact with the Speaker of the House after one short message. U.S. military command is, as far as anyone can tell, gone. The planet is in chaos. The Nathan James may possibly be the last vestige of societal order left, and Dr. Scott may be the only hope for finding a cure.
This is certainly a juicy concept. Adding to the crew’s dilemma are attacks by breakaway Russian militants who want Dr. Scott’s research, an unexplained nuclear missile strike on Europe, and concerns about limited supplies of food and fuel on the ship.
As you would expect from something Michael Bay produced, the show has very slick production values and a raging hard-on for fetishistic displays of military hardware in action. Bay did not direct the pilot episode himself, however. That duty went to journeyman Jonathan Mostow (‘U-571’, ‘Terminator 3’), and frankly that’s probably for the best. Mostow may not be an auteur, but he can stage a coherent action scene without editing it into a seizure-inducing assault of micro-second cuts. Television may turn out to be a more suitable medium for Mostow’s skills than feature films have been.
The show is a little overheated and silly, and I’m not entirely sold on it. (The episode also had a terrible sound mix over broadcast.) But I’m willing to give it at least one more episode. That’s better than I expected going in.