A few weeks in and the fall 2012 TV season is already starting to look like a washout. Almost none of the new shows are generating much interest. All that is about to change drastically, though, with the bracing, nuclear-power shot across the bow that is ABC’s “Last Resort.” This isn’t just the best new show, it’s the best hour of television in ages.
“Last Resort” is the first submarine-based series on television since ... um ... 1993’s “SeaQuest DSV.” So, right from the get-go, it earns credit for its unusual setting. The show is set in a modern America not too far off from our own. The only difference being that political tensions are running higher than even we could imagine. For whatever reasons, the president is in the middle of impeachment hearings, and various members of the military brass are bailing like rats from a sinking ship. Why? The pilot only gives us the most teasing of hints.
What we do know is that the crew of the U.S. ballistic missile submarine Colorado has just been ordered to send four ICBMs into Pakistan. The crew isn’t quite sure why. The U.S. isn’t at war with Pakistan. But orders are orders. Except that Captain Marcus Chaplin (the commanding Andre Braugher from “Homicide: Life on the Streets”) and his XO Sam Kendal (good-lookin’ Scott Speedman from Underworld) are highly suspicious. When the conscientious captain makes a phone call and starts asking questions instead of launching the missiles, a nearby U.S. Navy ship starts firing on them! With few options open to him and half the crew considering mutiny, Chaplin goes on the run, setting course for a tiny South Seas island dominated by a remote NATO radar installation.
Meanwhile, more shadowy intrigue is going on in Washington. Who’s in charge? Who’s issuing these orders? Is the president to blame? Is there some sort of coup going on? “Last Resort” delivers a head-snapping narrative twist every five minutes. The pilot (directed by executive producer Martin Campbell: Casino Royale, The Mask of Zorro, Green Lantern) is a complete and total nail-biter. By the end of the first episode, Chaplin and crew have taken over the island and declared themselves an independent nuclear-powered nation. But their troubles are only just beginning.
If “Last Resort” can keep up the tension of its jet-propelled pilot, it will become one of the most addicting shows on TV. The scripting is movie-grade. The cast is seeded with welcome faces (including Robert Patrick from Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Bruce Davison from X-Men). And the overall sense of indignant patriotic rebelliousness is timely as all get-out. Mixing the military-grade techie porn of Tom Clancy with the ensemble cast tension of Syfy’s “Battlestar Galactica,” “Last Resort” is a high-tech thriller with oceans of possibility.