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The Last Ship

Posted June 15 into Telly by John Birmingham

The curse of the single-season TV show is terrible indeed. Firefly is probably the most celebrated example, but there are others – great shows that never found their audience, or found them way too late. There is a version of the curse, however, which is even crueler. Shows that you mistakenly think had only one season, when they actually rolled on for many more.

I vaguely recall Murph raving about some TV show a couple years ago, maybe set on a warship, possibly at the end of the world. That was all I recalled, that and the crucial detail that it had been cancelled after 10 or 12 episodes. It sounded like the sort of thing I’d normally watch, but when The Last Ship appeared on the front page at Stan, and I thought, "Oh, there it is," I decided instead to spend my attention dollar elsewhere. Why set myself up for the disappointment. Having been left dangling by the UK show Survivors, I wasn't in the mood for another tease.

Turned out Murph hadn't been talking about The Last Ship though. He'd been done wrong by The Last Resort. The latter was set on a nuclear submarine. The Last Ship is a guided missile destroyer. "Confusion," to quote ELO's Mr Jeff Lyne. "It's such a terrible shame. Confusion – you don't know what you're sayin'."

I'm still not sure how the world went down the dunny in Resort, but on The Last Ship it's an ebola-like virus. Glancing coincidence – Survivors is also an End of the World story with a flu-like plague doing the hard yards of cutting down the potential list.

The captain and crew of the USS Nathan James avoid the collapse of civilisation (and billions of exploding bloodsacks) by virtue of having been sent to the Arctic for a top-secret weapons test. Except it's not a top-secret weapons test, a couple of scientists who tag along with them are doing even more secret research on the superbug.

That's about all the set up you need to know. The Nathan James returns from its four-month mission to find the world is falling apart and whenever they set foot on dry land they have to wear NBC suits and stay clear of the infected. Props to the producers for not firing up the zombie cannon at this point. It must have been tempting to make this The Walking Dead On Water.

It’s not. After an admittedly wobbly pilot, the series really settles down into a propulsive hybrid thriller. (Seriously, just ingnore the cheesier dialogie, cardboard characterisation, and a few continuity issues in that first ep. Everything gets better). The contagion threat is always there. You've got rogue Russians chasing them for a cure (and it is SO GREAT to have the Russians back as the villains of a military story. We missed you so much, Ivan!). There is the always exciting collapse of civilisation to deal with every ep, and the producers never lose sight of resource scarcity as both a constraint and a driver for the story engine.

It's the writing and character work that have really impressed me so far. With 200+ sailors on the ship, the crew could become ciphers. Redshirts. But they don't. The supporting cast is large, and they get some great dialogue and story arcs - more than enough to make the investment of caring about them. The headline characters (after a slightly wooden start) are all very well realised.

The writers perform a neat trick of borrowing tropes from a whole bunch of genres, so that they're not just recyling mil-fic cliches every week. There are lots of WTF plot moments, but nothing bizarre or outlandish. Simply surprising.

I'm up to episode six of season one now, and as I understand it the third season has just commenced in the US. This is what I love. A new story to invest in, and lots of chapters still ahead of me. If you're looking for something along these lines I am happy to give it a big thumbs up. Streaming now on Stan.

38 Responses to ‘The Last Ship’

Gutz reckons...

Posted June 15
I am a bit further into the series than yourself so i will not impart anything that may be interpreted as a spoiler apart from you will encounter a few what i term to be...... "holy crap!" moments. (code for 'well i totally didn't see that coming').

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted June 15
Yeah, there's been a couple of those already. There is some good writing in this series.

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Surtac swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 15
Okay. Another one to check out.

Btw JB, your earlier endorsement of Justified was spot on. I felt a bit sad when I finished it last weekend.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted June 15
I feel your sadness. Give yourself a little break, but check out Longmire next. A very different vibe, but also a great reimagining of the classic western. It's so different in tone from Justified, however, that you do need to catch your breath between them.

she_jedi ducks in to say...

Posted June 15
OMG I love Longmire so much! I stumbled across it by accident, then binged the first two seasons in a week and a bit, just in time for season 3 to start. Thank god that when the idiots at AMC cancelled it, Netflix rode to the rescue and saved it. Long live Longmire.

Lulu reckons...

Posted June 15
I used to watch it when Ch 9 was playing 'hide & seek' with in their late-night schedule. :(

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Surtac reckons...

Posted June 15
Thanks. I shall check it out. Also, another show that has been recommended to me is Banshee. Anyone else here at the Burger know anything about that one?

she_jedi mutters...

Posted June 15
I've not seen it yet, but it's on my list of things to catch up on. From what I've heard it's insanely violent, but not in an exploitative way, and everyone I know who's watched it raves about it quite passionately. Definitely a must see for me.

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Aaron puts forth...

Posted June 15
Dang it, I had most of it series recorded off free to air (ch 11 I think) but after the first episode thought god no and deleted it all. Hopefully they repeat it.

I can recommend 'the strain' it's a vampire apocalypse series. Feels like an old school x files ep turned into a full show. Created by the guilmero del torro.

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Barnesm reckons...

Posted June 15
yeah caught this one, for me it was more the science/cure/plague scientist as hero that interested me.

So you off handed 'a couple of scientists' comment -really JB your love of explosions aside surely Dr Scott, ably played by Rhona Mitra, deserved more than such a brief description.

Smart, capable and in later episodes show to be capable of great restrained violence, but using her mind and not a gun. She was my favorite character. Her ability to invest scientific authority in what from what I know of biology some credibility stretching in terms of how the immune system works, looking at you Sorensen's lungs.


and for those wanting more of Rhona Mitra's work might I recommend Neil Marshall's sadly underrated 2008 film Doomsday or her work in the Underworld series.

I am tempted to read the novel it was based on, written by William Brinkley.

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Murphy_of_Missouri mumbles...

Posted June 15
When is that asshole from Missouri not raving about something?

;)

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Dick ducks in to say...

Posted June 15
I also recall this being on free to air some time ago, or if not this something very similar, but, typically, as soon as it got really interesting, they pulled it. Bastards.

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sharky mumbles...

Posted June 15
Yeah, I saw this on FTA Win. The last one I saw was ep 12 I think, then it stopped.

It looked like everything was wrapped up nice and neat and was the end. Then, bang, a WTF moment and it looked like it would definitely be continuing, but I have heard nothing since--Until now!
Will see if I can find season2
Thanks JB

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Mark R, Whittington mumbles...

Posted June 15
FYI The series is based loosely on a 1988 novel by the same name by William Brinkley in which the disaster is a thermonuclear war and not a plague,

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Aaron ducks in to say...

Posted June 15
The thing I like about the strain is the characters don't make stupid decisions (am looking at you walking dead) and the vampires are definitely not of the twilight kind.

Barnesm reckons...

Posted June 15
agree the vampires aren't the twilight kind, but I must respectfully disagree with the "characters don't make stupid decisions".

Standing around looking at photo albums knowing the Vampire Mom is due is but one example. Oh and Eprhaim choosing to hold off helping Nora make the vampire killing virus to drop Zack off in Georgia and instead of getting started on the Vamp-Virus she decides SHE HAS TO GO WITH HIM.

also I have read Zach Goodweather described as the worst character on television.

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HAVOCK21 has opinions thus...

Posted June 15
I started watching it about a month ago....IT FKN ROCKS! great cast.....and so far, pretty well done.

chrs
H

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Sparty puts forth...

Posted June 15
Agree completely - love the confrontations with the Klingon D7M battle cruiser- sorry i mean Russian Navy Kirov class battle cruiser.
Season two has a great arc involving the Royal Navy (kind of)

and they actually treat subs in a vagly realistic (for TV) way and the battles have that genuine "plotted" dimension that BSG used to capture.

and yeah a fan favorite of mine got killed off (you'll know when).
sadly season premier of 3 has been postponed cause of Orlando ( and yeah i know Orlando is the actual big sadness).

still think the actor who plays the captain, models himself on, well the best captain the world has ever (or will ever see)...

John Birmingham swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 15
Jim Kirk, of course.

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BostonJoe ducks in to say...

Posted June 16
One of my all time favorite shows that never made it to season 2 was Space, Above and Beyond. It had a great story line and seemed to be really hitting it stride when it got the axe. It took me years to forgive FOX for that one then they went and did it again with Firefly.

James Morrison as Lt. Col. Tyrus Cassius 'T.C.' McQueen was badass.

John Birmingham has opinions thus...

Posted June 16
I am in furious agreement with you. I loved that show.

Murphy_of_Missouri swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 17
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKbMq-8kAAo

tqft swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted June 18
Watch your six

I do own the DVD set.

The story could be brought back and rebooted (as suggested down thread) with the original actors - having all been imprisoned for the duration

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Gutz mutters...

Posted June 16
One show that aired in 2014 that only had 10eps for season one. Seems possibly to be continuing in 2016? (not sure if a release date for season 2 has been confirmed). Marco Polo. It chronicles his adventures during an indenture within Kublai Khan's court in the 13th century Mongolia. Only 10 eps. But give me those instead of 'someones got talent who can cook while renovating a house and getting married to their next door neighbor that they have never met show' any day.

Surtac has opinions thus...

Posted June 16
How did I miss this, given my known obsession for all things Mongol?

Must seek it out immediately.

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Gutz mutters...

Posted June 16
One show that aired in 2014 that only had 10eps for season one. Seems possibly to be continuing in 2016? (not sure if a release date for season 2 has been confirmed). Marco Polo. It chronicles his adventures during an indenture within Kublai Khan's court in the 13th century Mongolia. Only 10 eps. But give me those instead of 'someones got talent who can cook while renovating a house and getting married to their next door neighbor that they have never met show' any day.

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Aaron would have you know...

Posted June 16
Barnes those decisions do sound dumb but have only seen 7 eps so far.
Space above and beyond was promising would love a relaunch. In fact I don't why if the idea is good why not have another go?

I feel a mass geek out coming on

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Roger Ward is gonna tell you...

Posted June 16
I'm still lamenting over the ending of Deadwood.

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William puts forth...

Posted June 16
I've been into The Last Ship since it started and if you are buying it to keep definitely get the blu-rays, it looks great. Great production values too and it uses FX to expand the story not just for explody things.

Agree with everything you've said about the character arcs...But it does start to take a leaf out of GoT's playbook eventually.

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robW has opinions thus...

Posted June 16
Hate to reclaim Murphy's stolen thunder, but it was me who brought up the subject of The Last Ship being made into a series. It didn't make an impression on the list, and I am not to be confounded with Murphy in any way...

McSteamy of the McSteamy & McDreamy pair (Grey's Anatomy) was cast as lead, and the original novel THE LAST SHIP was ruined and raped in the process. THE LAST SHIP was William Brinkley's last novel, and I thought it was a powerful one.

The opening sequence of the novel, in which the ship's crew dispassionately and deliberately and professionally delivers its nukes, was--no pun intended--a killer. Brinkley's feel for life aboard a ship was good, the way he described a ship at sea above the 60th parallel was spot on, but I think he was sick with cancer when he wrote the novel and it shows toward the end.

Nukes not being fearsome anymore--hey, everybody has one, right--the television producers recast the novel as a bug hunt, and it has degenerated into yet another endless soap series with McSteamy starring.

I don't know whether the novel is still readable or not. Like reading any old stuff you wonder where the cell phones went and why there is no mention of the Internet. Whatever the case, I still recommend the prologue and first chapter--i.e. the storyline up to and including the launch of the nukes. It's worth the purchase prices just for the first 50 pages. It's a compelling, horrifying piece of writing, but probably best understood by those who remember when nukes were horrifying pieces of warfare.

Today people are much more jaded. A nuke is Meh. An imbecile with a rifle in Orlando, Florida inspires much more terror than a Peacekeeper MX with a 300 kiloton yield upgradable to 475 kilotons. A nuke these days is BORING.

Murphy_of_Missouri mutters...

Posted June 17
Well, to be fair, not every conversation I have with John takes place on this blog.

That said, robW may well have beat me to it.

Or may not.

I can not recall.

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Vovchara puts forth...

Posted June 17
couldn't get over suddenly appearing helicopters in pilot and another stupid plot where they had to pull a huge warship with improvised sails ><. The obvious fact the writers missed 3rd grade math was also returning aspect of the show.

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Helical asserts...

Posted June 18
I watched a few episodes when it first aired on 9 and loved it, though I did yell at the TV when the Russians came flying in with western helicopters (As355's from memory). Unfortunately I just don;t get around to watching TV other than Game of Thrones and the occasional doco really. Might have to download and finish watching the whole series.

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Guy is gonna tell you...

Posted June 21
I certainly share your pain over Survivors, but would urge you to check out the original version from the early 1970s - http://amzn.to/28LwAl6

It was considerably more realistic than the remake, with none of the nonsense about secret labs and government conspiracies.

It was a bit like the Day of the Triffids without the Triffids or the Walking Dead without the Zombies.The writer, Terry Nation (the bloke who invented the Daleks) realised that trying to survive in a world where almost everyone else had died was terrifying enough. All the monsters were ordinary people.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted June 22
Added to my list. Thx.

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John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted June 22
I've just finished S2 of TLS now and I am addicted. It just gets better with every ep, which is what you want in a TV series. The things that have impressed me most have been the moral choices, the character arcs and the long form study of leadership. It's like a modern Star Trek.

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HAVOCK21 is gonna tell you...

Posted June 22
fkn gotta finish me binge on Entourage first..then its the SHIP oh yeah baby!!!!!!

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TheWah is gonna tell you...

Posted June 26
Against the odds I've quite enjoyed this show. Well into series 2 and happy to watch more.

I will say this - If I am ever shot in a combat situation I won't stoically hide my wound on the ride home. I'll tell everyone around me and give them 5 minute updates - "Still shot over here". The Last Ship has taught me that stoics die

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