Scott D. Pierce: ‘Last Ship’ is way cool and sort of scary, too

By Scott D. Pierce

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: June 19, 2014 11:29AM
Updated: June 18, 2014 06:28PM
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Captain Tom Chandler (Eric Danes) on the bridge of the Navy destroyer U.S.S. Nathan James. Maarten De Boer/TNT

The biggest star in TNT’s new action/drama “The Last Ship” isn’t human. It’s the ship itself.

That’s not a slam at any of the actors. The ship is really, really cool.

The premise of “The Last Ship” is the darkest thing we’ve seen in a TV series since the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot. A deadly plague has been unleashed and, in a matter of weeks, has wiped out most of the world’s population.

Captain Tom Chandler (Eric Dane, “Grey’s Anatomy”) and the crew of the Navy destroyer U.S.S. Nathan James, however, have been on a secret assignment at the top of the world and have avoided infection. Not only that, but they’ve got a scientist aboard, andRachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) may be able to come up with a cure for the plague.

It’s a thrill-ride of a TV show that owes something to the style of one of its executive producers — film director Michael Bay (“Transformers,” “Armageddon”). And “The Last Ship” was produced with the cooperation of the U.S. Navy.

“We got the U.S. Navy on board,” said executive producer Steve Kane. “They gave us a ship, and we had a $3 billion set, suddenly.”

The first episode, which airs Sunday at 7 and 9:05 p.m. on TNT, was shot aboard actual Navy destroyers; production resumed a year later on sets built to re-create those ships.

“We use it as a great way to show people at home a world they don’t normally see,” Kane said. “Which is, by its sheer scope, going to have spectacle and excitement.”

Without giving too much away, there are bad guys out there. But that’s the lesser of the threats “The Last Ship” faces.

“There’s an invisible enemy throughout the whole series, which is the virus itself,” Kane said.

The producers, writers and cast keep referring to “The Last Ship” as a “popcorn show” — the TV series equivalent of a movie that grabs you and keeps you entertained. Having seen three episodes, it is that.

“It’s smart popcorn,” Dane said. “It’s air popped.”

Well, it’s mostly smart popcorn. “The Last Ship” is entertaining enough to overlook things that don’t quite make sense. Which don’t really matter. You have to just sit back and have fun with it, as serious as the situation is.

And “The Last Ship” is very respectful of the Navy and its traditions. Even when the Navy itself — not to mention the United States — no longer exists.

“We’ve had the honor of being aboard two guided missile destroyers down at the Navy base in San Diego,” said Adam Baldwin, who stars as first officer Mike Slatter. “And for us to have been in and amongst the true professionals of the Navy has been a trickle-down effect to us. We take it seriously because they’re taking it seriously.”

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.