'The Last Ship': Hero worship on a warship

San Francisco ChronicleJune 19, 2014 

Eric Dane plays Capt. Tom Chandler, the man in charge of The Last Ship. Rhona Mitra is Rachel Scott, one of two scientists who can save the world.

RICHARD FOREMAN/SMPSP

  • TV REVIEW

    'The Last Ship'

    ★★★☆☆

    9 p.m. June 22 on TNT

    Online: Thelastshiptnt.com

The Last Ship is the TV equivalent of the summer blockbuster, and despite the fact that there's nothing here you haven't seen before, TNT makes it fun to watch.

You almost don't need to be told that this is a Michael Bay production. It has all the earmarks of his work: big special effects, big story, big performances and very few big words in the dialogue for the series, which premieres Sunday.

Capt. Tom Chandler (Eric Dane, Grey's Anatomy) is ready to take his ship, the Navy destroyer USS Nathan James, back to port, but is ordered to transport a pair of paleomicrobiologists, Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) and Quincy Tophet (Sam Spruell), above the Arctic Circle for some kind of secret experiment.

Scott and Tophet have turned the ship's helicopter bay into a temporary laboratory, and at first, Chandler and his crew just find their presence an annoying inconvenience. But when the scientists and their Navy escorts are attacked on an ice floe by Russians, it's obvious there's more going on here than a glorified science project.

It turns out that chaos reigns throughout the world as a deadly and unstoppable disease has wiped out millions of people, including the U.S. president and probably family members of the Nathan James' crew. Scott and Tophet are under orders to find the primary strain of the virus to create a vaccine before all human life is eradicated. That's why the Russians are after the scientists and why they'll stop at nothing to make sure they have the vaccine.

If you think just a split second, you may say to yourself, "Wait. You mean there are only two scientists in the whole world who can find the primary strain and develop the vaccine?"

Of course, Hank Steinberg and Steve Kane, who developed the series based on William Brinkley's novel, and director Jonathan Mostow make sure you're sufficiently distracted by fast-paced action to think about anything as you watch The Last Ship.

Although this is a futuristic fantasy, the real hook for The Last Ship is that it harks back to those terrific Cold War films of the past century. Even the bad ones were kind of fun. It's not just because Russians are back in style as go-to bad guys. (Thanks, Putin! Annex your little heart out. It's good for Hollywood). It's that Chandler is the kind of red, white and blue he-man hero we remember from the past.

Dane is perfect for the role: He all but replicates the John Wayne archetype as the tough, unflappable Navy career man.

No one really has to work hard here because the script is as close to monosyllabic as you can get and still have your character speaking English. People don't actually talk with each other in The Last Ship. Instead, they announce, pronounce and recycle clichés. We get a sense of character through the performances, though, and many of them are very good.

In addition to reminding us of all the great Cold War thrillers, The Last Ship might also call to mind another "last" show: ABC's doomed The Last Resort, which may not have been about a worldwide pandemic but also focused on a lone ship (a submarine) trying to save the world. The problems with that series were evident in the first episode: Someone in the TV world was actually overthinking, and the result was pretty much a mess, not to mention a criminal misuse of Andre Braugher.

The Last Ship doesn't have that problem. Bay, Steinberg and Kane know what they're doing and set a course for fast-paced action.

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