Well, seeing as how the horrors of schoolwork have put a slight kink in my blogging schedule, I’m forced to improvise. For now I’m going to be playing a bit of catch-up, in the form of quickie reviews that’ll cover all the episodes I’ve missed for each show in my regular rotation. First up is one of the chosen few new programs of the fall that I had any vested interest in: Last Resort.
There’s a nifty little parallel that becomes evident when watching Last Resort, the latest show from The Shield showrunner Shawn Ryan. Andre Braugher’s character, Marcus Chaplin (a submarine captain who refuses a questionable order to fire a nuclear weapon at Pakistan, then leads his crew to a tropical island to take refuge from the vengeful US military) is, more often than not, the one person everyone else seems to lean on. He’s the wise old commanding officer. He’s the mentor for two of our other leads, Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) and Grace Shepard (Daisy Betts). And even as we march through this first handful of episodes and Chaplin may or may not begin to come apart at the seams, he’s still the one that steps up to the leadership role when the rest of the cast is in peril, be it from local warlords, mutineers or any other villain-of-the-week.
And just like his character would, Braugher’s performance tends to carry the rest of Last Resort through its occasional troubled patches. Braugher dominates any scene he’s in. He’s got a commanding, authoritative presence that seems just as fitting when he’s barking orders at a team of soldiers or when he’s delivering his lines with a soft, subdued touch. It’s a role that far outshines anyone else in the cast, all of whom give decent yet unremarkable performances (although there’s an exception to be made for Robert Patrick, who’s clearly enjoying himself as grizzled old hardass Joseph Prosser). No one else seems up to the task of matching Braugher’s ability, and most of the characters end up feeling somewhat forgettable by comparison.
Last Resort‘s cinematography shares the same ho-hum spirit of the cast- as is the case with nearly everything on broadcast television, it’s brightly lit and simplistically edited, giving everything a glamorous Hollywood style. Apart from the exotic island locales, there’s nothing about the show’s visuals that stand out in any way. Granted,those sunny shots of jungles and sandy beaches come in handy for a little low-key exposition or romance, but that’s about it. In fact, there was more than one time where Last Resort would return from a commercial break and it would take me a few seconds to realize that, having assumed that the picturesque establishing shots were part of some ad for Royal Caribbean Cruises.
Still, it’s not all bad. The submarine-centric action sequences provide some real thrills, especially considering that they only consist of actors standing around and bracing themselves for off-screen explosions that may or may not actually occur. It’s amazing, the tension you can wring from a single set, some CGI submarines and lots of shouting from Andre Braugher.
Each episode also zips along at a surprising pace, bolstered by the mystery at the show’s core. At four episodes in, precious little information about the suspicious nuclear firing order has been revealed, yet there have been just enough dribs and drabs of new info to keep everything exciting. Plus, every hour so far has been peppered with plenty of smaller plot twists and unexpected reversals of fortune. It’s enough to keep the viewers on their toes, yet all the surprises are fairly minor, so the show never gets bogged down under the weight of too many twists. Plus, in true Shawn Ryan fashion, Last Resort manages a perfect balance between its overarching plot and the story-of-the-week for each episode. What initially seems like a self-contained story about a kidnapping or a firefight ends up having all kinds of ramifications several episodes down the line. It’s the exact same structure we’ve seen perfected in Ryan’s earlier showslike The Shield and Terriers, and it works just as well here.
I like Last Resort. I like it a lot. Yet, it’s not really what I’d consider “great television.” For me, it’s more akin to a corny spy thriller or mystery novel that one would read at the beach. Not classic literature by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s fast-paced, well-plotted and bolstered by a compelling lead character. And that’s more than enough for me to enjoy.
Have a few extra notes to end this one on.
- All the non-Braugher actors tend to pull their own weight reasonably well, but the one exception is when Kendal’s wife Christine (Jessy Schram) goes ballistic on a crowd of paparazzi. That was far, far too hammy to ever take seriously.
- We’ve got two The Shield castmembers as of episode four- Jay Karnes plays the Secretary of Defense and David Rees Snell plays a Navy SEAL. Something tells me that that Shawn Ryan wouldn’t fill these roles with former Shield castmembers unless they become a lot more important in future episodes.
- There seem to be a few fledgling romances brewing on Last Resort, between Kendal and the NATO communications leader, and between the non-David Rees Snell Navy SEAL and the bartender (it’ll take several more episodes for these characters’ names to actually stand out in my brain). Neither of these pairings seem particularly new or exciting, but rather like romance for romance’s sake. I’m fine with tossing out both romantic sub-plots, but I doubt those in charge of the show agree with me.
And that’s all for now!