Third-episode verdict: The Last Ship (TNT)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, TNT

So let’s lay our cards on the table: TNT’s The Last Ship is not the best TV programme ever made. It’s a show in which a lone US naval warship is the world’s last best hope to prevent humanity’s extinction, following a global pandemic that’s already wiped out 50-80% of the world’s population – how could it be?

Add on dialogue that drips patriotism/jingoism at every turn, perfunctory/insulting characterisation and a cast that’s largely ‘adequate’ – even Adam Baldwin – and, last but not least, has Michael Bay as a producer, and again it’s obvious this isn’t going to be winning any writing awards, at least.

But I can still say, without any hesitation, that it is absolutely the best original TNT show of the past decade. Because even putting to one side the fact that for me, killer virus + naval action = awesome, The Last Ship is packed from start to finish with full-on naval and land warfare, great action scenes, genuine tension and adrenaline rushes from start to finish.

Indeed, unlike other shows which tend to pack their pilot episodes full of fun, run out of budget and fill the rest of their seasons with talking, the Michael Bay connection seems to be working well for The Last Ship, since if anything, the hardware demonstrations and fights seem to have increased in number not decreased since the first episode. What the show’s producers cleverly seems to have done is realised that:

  1. Ships and naval warfare are great
  2. But you need enemies to fight if any weapons are ever going to be used
  3. But unless you’re fighting aliens, you’re going to need a world-changing event for naval warfare to take place regularly between human beings and countries.

So far, beyond the obvious biological warfare of the virus itself, we’ve had helicopter battles, land battles, nuclear strikes, torpedoes, 5” shells, sniping, stealth warfare, terrorists, RPGs and a whole lot more, some of it CGI, obviously (I don’t think TNT have the budget for a nuclear war), but a surprising amount done with real ships on the sea and in exotic locales. Characters have died and been wounded, and there’s been real peril. Because it’s the end of the world and it’s every ship for itself.

It’s not been 100% authentic – launching a torpedo at almost point blank range and not getting any waves? I don’t think so – and there’s not a huge amount of veracity to the behaviour of those on any of the ships we’ve seen so far. The dialogue of the British characters has also clearly been written by Americans (we don’t need to say ‘the Queen of England’. If we’re talking about a Queen, it’s implicit that the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – i.e. our Queen – is the one we’re thinking of, unless we say otherwise).

But who cares? Halt and Catch Fire is great, brilliantly written drama but is it fun? No. The Last Ship is not brilliantly written, but hell is it ever fun, and it’s now the show I look forward to the most every week.

Barrometer rating: 2
Rob’s prediction: Should get at least another season, maybe more


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.