Thursday, October 04, 2012

Das Boot, American Style

It’s no secret that ABS is desperate for a new show that will fill the void left a few years ago by Lost. The problem for most attempts has been that none of them really resonated, probably because they were trying just so damn hard. The key to a successful Lost replacement is only going to come from a show that has enough similarities to hearken back to the fan favorite without trying to recreate it entirely. It remains to be seen, but ABC may have found a candidate for the job.

Last Resort tells the story of the crew of the fictional USS Colorado, a nuclear submarine patrolling the waters of the Indian Ocean in the very near future. She has a crew of 150 men and women and is fully equipped with all the latest in high-tech hardware, including an experimental new device that effectively makes the boat invisible to radar. In the world of the show, global tension is high after several mounting wars in the Middle East and a contentious US President who is in the midst of being impeached on unclear charges. In the midst of all this, the Colorado receives a sudden and mysterious order to fire its nuclear arsenal at Pakistan, stating that the US is under attack and Washington DC has been effectively destroyed. The skeptical crew questions the order and is fired upon by another US ship. Realizing that something has gone very wrong in the US Chain of Command and now effectively labeled enemies of their own country, the crew of the Colorado seeks refuge on a remote island and considers how to prove their innocence and solve the mystery of what has happened back home.

America's Heart Will Go On

For all its futuristic aspirations, the show is a complete cold-war throwback. It’s all there - the Mutually Assured Destruction, the possible evil empire enemy, the nuclear submarine setting, the subtle suggestion of an inside invasion of the US government by a foreign interest that is out to destroy us, even Captain Chaplin’s first act speech about how crazy Ronald Regan seemed to Russia. But honestly, Lost capitalized on a fair amount of Cold War-era throwbacks, so really this just bolsters the argument for Last Resort as that show’s successor. 

In terms of mechanics, the show has some faults. The acting is somewhere just on the good side of “stilted”. With the exception of a couple of legitimately good zingers, the dialogue also needs some work. Too often it comes across as wonky without explanation as an attempt to recreate the verisimilitude of military life on a submarine and then at other times it is completely pedantic when it could use a little more technical oomph. For those keeping score at home, the lead female officer is in full on Deanna Troi mode, often supplying the audience with the critical translation of the jargon.

The plot devices veer a bit too often fall into cliché, as well. In a particularly well-worn plot device, Scott Speedman’s character is heading out one final time before getting to go home to his wife just before the action sets in. Poor Speedman also has to get through a “saying goodbye” scene that feels like the writers just cut and pasted from some low-budget made for TV movie. (Seriously – why does this scene always happen in a living room in the middle of the day? Does the military not require you to show up in the morning for your deployment anymore?)

“Gosh, just one more seemingly simple mission on a prototype ship carrying a nuclear payload and a cast of diverse characters in a troubled part of the world? I’m sure I’ll be home by dinner, right?”

The sheer number of characters, most of whom dress exactly alike by virtue of being members of the armed services, also takes some tracking. With so many petty officers thrown into one frame, it can take some doing to keep everyone straight. The characters are, however, interesting and the pilot had moments in it that made me seriously have no clue what they were going to do or how they were going to get out of a problem – which is a good thing.

I’m willing to give a pass on these bits though. Pilots are notoriously hard to write and even with the faults of this one, you could see the potential shining through pretty brightly.  All the necessary components for a good show were well placed to make a really intriguing set of questions and mysteries.

The show’s big selling point (which it lands well) is the mystery of who ordered the attack on the Colorado and why? The entire show rings with a kind of post 9/11 The Way We Live Now in the sense that the crew has to adapt to life that they weren’t ready for. The country is plunged into war in the first half hour of this show and the crew find themselves not only in the position of being in the literal direct line of fire in a nuclear engagement, but also in potentially acting as a patsy for a corrupt faction of the government. Which is also to say that the crew, All American Heroes, become a kind of terrorists, literally throwing a nuclear missile at DC in order to call the bluff of the (likely) bad guys.

If nothing else, this show does crazy well. It’s a controlled study in watching how characters routinely fall into situations where they make bad decision after bad decision and the bad decisions just come faster and faster. Bomb Pakistan. Relieve the Captain of command. Throw the crew member in the brig. Shoot the traitor with all the critical information in the head, risking court martial. Upset the chain of command. The thing is, all of these bad decisions are ones that we exactly understand why the characters make them. It lends to the overall feeling of sinking that this show explores. The submarine literally sinks and people are sinking right along with it as situations force their hands into areas they can’t control. Which, I think we can all agree, sounds like exciting television.


MattJS said...

But is there a super smart dolphin?

Clovis said...

Not as of yet, but OH HELL YES, DARWIN!

Clovis said...

Not as of yet, but OH HELL YES, DARWIN!