Sneak Peek – ABC’s Last Resort

I’ve been facing one inevitable fact for the last two weeks – I’m going to get sick. I know it is coming. I can feel my body becoming run down from both work and play. The changing of the seasons is usually a contributing factor as well. Sitting in the rain for 4 hours at the Madonna concert certainly didn’t help, nor did leaving my bedroom window partially open as the evenings have gotten considerably colder. To paraphrase a line from Game of Thrones, “A cold is coming.”

Last night I tried to be proactive by skipping a movie screening (a definite sign that I’m not feeling 100%) and staying home. I thought going to bed earlier than normal might help me feel less tired in the morning (spoiler alert: it didn’t). The evening wasn’t wasted however; I was able to read a book (I’m a fast reader and it was a short book) and finally had the chance to sit down and watch the pilot for ABC’s new drama, Last Resort.

Last Resort had a lot going for it in my book. The show is the latest from showrunner Shawn Ryan, who was the man behind a little show called The Shield. I really enjoyed The Shield; I didn’t watch it when it was actually on, but found myself mainlining episode after episode once I started watching it. As soon as I finished it, I bought the complete series on DVD. But as good as The Shield was, Ryan’s unsuccessful next show, Terriers, was even better. I’m one of a handful of people who actually watched Terriers, which makes me one of the luckiest people on the planet. The show was absolutely fantastic and it broke my heart when it didn’t get a second season. In fact, the cancellation of Terriers is one of the main reasons why I don’t typically watch new shows in their first season. As the great philosophers Whitesnake would say, once bitten, twice shy.

The other, more compelling, reason that I wanted to check out Last Resort was because it stars Andre Braugher and Andre Braugher is the man. There is really no other way to put it. I will watch absolutely anything that he is involved in because he is just that gifted of an actor. Even if he is in something that isn’t that great, he’s always great in it. He first blew me away as Frank Pembleton in Homicide: Life on the Streets. This show never got the respect or accolades that it received. It is the best network cop show that I have ever seen.  Homicide is where David Simon cut his teeth as a writer and where I also first saw future Academy Award winner Melissa Leo act. But it was Andre Braugher who stole the show. He is an acting tour de force and because of his skill they were able to do one of the more riveting and complex story lines that I have seen: changing a character’s personality as the result of a stroke. The cocky and assured Pembleton was suddenly a much more fragile and unsure man; I don’t know that another actor could have pulled this off with the same grace and veracity that Braugher did. I also tremendously enjoyed Braugher’s work on the also tragically too short Men of a Certain Age.

So I only had two concerns going into Last Resort: I don’t generally like movies/books/TV shows that focus on military action/war and could the show live up to the high standard that I set in my mind because of the involvement of Braugher and Ryan?

I’m happy to report that the pilot eliminated both those concerns. I enjoyed it tremendously. It did however raise a new concern for the series going forward.

Last Resort deals primarily with the crew of the USS Colorado, which is being run by Captain Marcus Chaplin (Braugher) and his second in command XO Lt. Commander Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman). This may be Kendal’s last tour of duty, as Chaplin has encouraged him to take a desk job so that Kendal can spend time with his wife and start a family. Also on board is the usual cast of characters, including navigator Lt. Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts), who is the daughter of a prominent official at the Pentagon and one of the first wave of women to serve on submarines.

Everyone is looking forward to returning home when the submarine receives an authenticated order to launch nuclear missiles at Pakistan. The order, however, comes through a secondary channel that is to only be used when the primary channel has been rendered inoperable or destroyed. Chaplin is concerned that the order is coming through the secondary when the primary (and official) means of communication is still operational and requests that the order be resent according to protocol. When both Chaplin and Kendal repeat the request, the USS Colorado is fired upon by another United States ship for defying orders and “going rogue,” damaging their vessel and killing many of the crew. Now viewed as enemies to their country, they must figure out how to survive and how to clear their names. Think of it as Hunt for Red October meets The A-Team.

There is a lot going on in the pilot of Last Resort and I think they managed to unpack it all in a clear and concise manner without slowing down the story or too much exposition. The focus was on plot and action over character development, which I think was the right call with a show like this. We do get hints of who these people are and I am looking forward to finding out more about them as the series progresses. But setting the scene is the primary point of the pilot and they did so effectively; I was legitimately stressed out about what was going to happen at several points. And while I don’t necessarily enjoy military story lines, I do love a good conspiracy plot/political cover-up and this had it in spades. The whole thing felt more like a movie than a television show. It was visually pretty stunning; for those who watched Lost, they are filming in the same location in Hawaii. Maybe the smoke monster will even make an appearance.

Bruagher, unsurprisingly, kills it. He’s fantastic in every scene and even gets to deliver one of his trademark soliloquies. He is worth tuning in for alone. I’m less familiar with Speedman’s work – I was not a Felicity fan – but he’s solid as well. I’m actually most interested to learn more about Lt. Grace Shepard; I didn’t think that Betts was particularly outstanding in the role, but the character has an interesting enough backstory that I want to know more. It was also nice to see Autumn Reeser as contractor Kylie Sinclair; as a fan of The O.C. back in the day, it’s always good to see her show up (though this is a VERY different character than Taylor Townsend).

My main concern going forward is how they are going to be able to successfully sustain the story. Now that they have set the stakes and the scenario, I’m not sure how they are going to be able to keep the same momentum going throughout 22 episodes. I’m not clear how this could be a multiple season show; I’m sure that there are ways to stretch the story out or to go in new directions, but this almost feels like a story that could have been better suited with a miniseries. I trust that Shawn Ryan knows what he is doing and will be able to stick the landing, but I can’t help wondering how he is going to do it and if he will be able to keep the same tone and pacing in the process.

This isn’t enough to scare me off from Last Resort; if anything, I’m now even more intrigued about how they are going to keep this thing going. It’s on the worst night possible for me (Thursdays at 8 pm ET) but I’m going to make a real effort to keep up with it. It may have to be on demand, but I’ll still watch. If Ryan’s previous show caused my skittishness with new TV shows, perhaps Ryan’s latest show can cure me.

Last Resort premiers Thursday September 27th at 8 pm ET.