A few years ago, Regal theaters began running an ad campaign before the previews in which film scenes were shown on the big screen before shrinking to the size of a TV or computer monitor where, not surprisingly given the context, they looked absurd. "Go big or go home" was the tag line as the smaller screen exploded.
With "The Last Ship," TNT begs to differ. A Michael Bay production, the story line of "The Last Ship" may be the classic Save the World, but its quest may be even more pointed: Prove that television can do blockbuster.
"The Last Ship" goes as big as it gets: Naval destroyer stationed in the Arctic and filled to the brim with all manner of hard-to-miss types, including and especially square-jawed Cmdr. Tom Chandler (Eric Dane), the stand-offish Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) and the feisty XO Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin). What Chandler and his crew think is a maneuvers mission, with Scott and her team tagging along for ambient research, turns out to be the exact opposite. While the Nathan James has been idling in frigid waters, a fast-moving pandemic has wiped out 80% of Earth's population.
Fortunately, Scott may have the seeds of a cure; unfortunately, the world is now in full-blown post-apocalypse mode.
Adapted by Hank Steinberg and Steve Kane from a novel by William Brinkley (in which a nuclear war provided the end-of-the-world catalyst), "The Last Ship," like its leading man, has near-perfect bone-structure. Locked and loaded, Chandler's vessel is fully equipped to deal with the various renegade bands fighting for resources/the cure, and it's endlessly mobile. This means the action can take place in all manner of locales, including, in an early episode, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The crew is large enough to sustain casualties while showcasing all the various personalities necessary to create emotional connection in between all the groovy battle scenes, international showdowns and internal disagreements. All of which allows the commander to exert his leading-man charisma.
Of which he has plenty. Dane, best known for his role as Dr. McSteamy on "Grey's Anatomy," is fine and steady center for the drama; his Chandler can handle banter, bathos (Chandler left a wife and kids behind in the now plague-decimated States) and blather (some of the dialogue is less written than forked out of a can).
Mitra too has possibility, mixing supersmart with superhot, while the rest of the cast honorably hit their marks.
Still, "The Last Ship" seems determined to put concept before character, which is a much bigger problem on television than it is on film. As similarly ambitious shows like "The Walking Dead" and "Game of Thrones" have proved, success turns almost solely on the emergence of characters who resonate with audiences, often to the point of obsession. Although the crew of the Nathan James are likable enough, three episodes in, no Tyrion or Arya, no Daryl or Michonne have emerged.
Which could be a problem. Pyrotechnics and nationalistic triumph over stereotypical foes (the Russians are, not surprisingly, at it again) will take you only so far. "The Last Ship" may indeed deliver the cure, but for it to survive, audiences need to care.
'The Last Ship'
When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for coarse language and violence)Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times