You’ve heard that “TV is the new movies”? Well, summer TV is the new summer movies. This month and next, military raids and explosions and robots and monsters are available in the comfort of your living room. So plop down on that couch, crank up the AC, and take a look at what the boob tube has to offer. Halle Berry. Guillermo del Toro. Michael Bay. Nuclear pyrotechnics. Shape-shifting bloodsuckers. Plot twists and plot twists and still more plot twists.
If the paragraph above reads like hype, blame the influence of cinema’s foremost explosionist, Michael Bay. He executive-produced TNT’s hyperexpensive military action series, The Last Ship, about the crew of a U.S. naval destroyer sailing the globe in the aftermath of a population-thinning global pandemic, looking for a cure and battling stateless terrorists, decadent Russians, and their own fear and depression. (The 1988 William Brinkley novel on which The Last Ship is based was more like the post-nuke drama On the Beach; the TV show, developed by Hank Steinberg and Steven Kane, keeps the radioactivity and adds a hideous Ebola-type virus.) I sat down at this keyboard right after binge-watching the first three episodes, and I’m still feeling the rush. This surprises me, considering that I find Bay’s self-directed films as charming as a wasted frat boy. The show’s reflexive War on Terror sloganeering and fetishistic worship of all things military are Bayish, if that is indeed a word (“We don’t negotiate with terrorists!” a good guy declares before raining down artillery shells on a durka-durka-jihad type). Luckily, The Last Ship skimps on the casual sexism, racism, homophobia, and pledge-week sadism that are Bay’s stock-in-trade, which makes the whole thing feel a smidge less retrograde and a lot more inclusive. There are no mincing hairdressers (The Rock) or jive-talking “black” robots (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), just sturdy if dour B-movie characters, including straight-arrow commander Tom Chandler (Eric Dane), whose jaw could double as an anvil; Adam Baldwin’s XO Mike Slattery, the bridge’s resident voice of reason; and paleomicrobiologist Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra), the rare Bay heroine whose ass has not (yet) been showcased in a Steadicam shot. The dialogue ranges from functional (“What’s our fuel percentage?”) to bewilderingly generic (“All’s fair in love and war”), and all the characters, women included, are so stereotypically macho—pitching their voices as low as possible and trying not to blink—that the show teeters on the edge of self-parody. But damned if it isn’t addictive, at times thrilling, thanks mainly to the lavish budget (that’s a real battleship) and the writers’ knack for backing the crew into dire situations, then letting the skipper cowboy his way out of it, James T. Kirk style. (Apparently you can fool enemy radar by building a fake battleship out of tinfoil.)