Whether its Bad Boys or the Transformers films, Michael Bay seems to have a fascination with cars. However, the new TNT show The Last Ship proves that Bay is as adept at sea as he is on land.
Of course the Eric Dane-led drama based on the William Brinkley novel of the same name is not Bay’s first time executive producing a project on a boat: He was also behind Pearl Harbor and his first TV adventure Black Sails. Dane plays Captain Tom Chandler, a Navy man in charge of a 200+ person crew aboard the U.S.S. Nathan James when a global catastrophe puts the fate of the entire world in his hands. Dane’s character’s name and the name of the boat are the only real similarities in the story between the novel and the TV adaptation, which was a smart move on the parts of showrunners Hank Steinberg (Without a Trace) and Steven Kane (The Closer). The book provides more narrative action, but when your show is being touted as the biggest summer blockbuster not in theaters, audiences are going to expect a little something more.
Fortunately, the pilot provides just enough action to excite without going overboard (pun intended). We begin in Egypt, where a mysterious viral illness has started to spread and kill victims as scientist Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) collects samples from their blood to help find a cure. She is brought onto the James to continue her secret study for the American government (she needs to get to the Arctic for more research), unbeknown to the Captain, who thinks he is on a weapons test. After four months of radio silence from the outside world, the crew’s mission is over and they can go home… or so they think. There were more than a few eye-rolling moments, such as the last-night celebration at the North Pole, which the audience can easily predict is clearly not the last night. Or how about an epic helicopter/snowmobile chase and gunfight with Russians across the Arctic? (Seriously though, what other TV show or movie has even had a helicopter/snowmobile chase and gunfight across the Arctic?)
The crew discovers that there is a genetic virus outbreak, which has affected 80 percent of the world population. Apparently, a global pandemic is the way to get a female in the White House as the fictitious president and vice president die from the illness and are replaced by the Speaker of the House. She knows all about Scott’s scientific study and claims that it may be the world’s last hope for survival. At this point, both the show and Captain Chandler kick it into high gear. Much of the beginning exposition is predictable enough from the promos and even a vague knowledge of anything Michael Bay. Because of this, Chandler early on falls into every sea captain cliché in the book. However, he does prove more effective when he is suddenly thrust into a unique authoritative position and has to question everything, even an order from POTUS herself. The Last Ship world loses all forms of structure and control, and the Captain is able to keep his composure with gravitas (and his McSteamy eyes aren’t so bad to look at either). Dane is acting more like a movie star here, but it is a good movie.
Though a surprising twist at the very last moment in the pilot opens up the possibility for more action and conflict beyond the disease, the biggest question people will have about this show is whether or not it actually belongs on TV. After all, The Last Ship is only Bay’s second time working on the small screen and his ego and level of creativity may be just a bit too big. The ending feels preordained for the 10 episode series as not much else can change until someone saves the world at the last minute. That’s how The Last Ship would have likely ended if it were actually a summer blockbuster. Another Michael Bay produced project, Transformer: Age of Extinction, opens on Friday with a runtime of 165 minutes. The Last Ship is definitely worth an hour (or at least 43 minutes of your time), but you’ll have to decide if it’s worth all 430 minutes on board.