Wednesday, September 26, 2012

'Last Resort': Initial Reaction

'Last Resort,' ABC's most recent entry into the action-adventure serial, launches with an intelligent and thrilling first hour.  It does what the best of pilot episodes are supposed to do: has the audience counting the days (or hours) until the next episode.

Until then, we will just have to watch the pilot episode, titled "Captain," a couple more times.  Now, I've never been a fan of pilot episodes. By this I mean, for the shows that I watch, I rarely (if ever) consider a pilot to be among the top episodes of any given series.   This is why I always find it odd when first year programs submit their pilot episodes to be considered at the Emmys (I don't know if this it what Homeland did).  If the pilot were considered the best episode, then the entire show would be a down hill experience after its opening act.  No, as mentioned above, a pilot's job is to serve as a hook to reel in viewers for the next installment.  And Last Resort's pilot definitely succeeded in that regard.

NOTE: This is not a review of the show.  This is an "Initial Reaction."  The following are the elements of the first hour of Last Resort that caught my attention and have stuck with me.  I do speculate on the future of this show more than I have done in past Initial Reactions.  This is because I don't want to give out too many spoilers since some will be reading this before they watch the episode.  "Captain" is available on Hulu prior to its Thursday, September 27th premiers (8pm EST) premiere.

With that said SPOILERS still appear in this post.

Within the first five minutes, it is clear that the target audience for this show was not the same young adult demographic (16-25?) that NBC seems to be aiming for with Revolution (I know that NBC is trying for a broader audience than this, but Revolution comes off as if it's meant for teenagers who recently stopped watching iCarly).  No, Last Resort is a show for grown ups. This show respects the intelligence of its audience.  The characters on the submarine feel like real military personnel and the audience shares a familiarity with the world which allows them to identify with the predicament the characters find themselves in.  Some people may nitpick some of the military details but I don't critique works of popular culture on how accurately they portray basic procedures of business and/or institutions.

The primary setting for "Captain" is on a submarine called the USS Colorado.  I think the show presents this tight knit group of (mostly) young and dutiful military personnel in the most respectable manner that one can expect from a network drama.  The Captain that gives the episode its title is Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher).  Braugher's presence is a powerful one.  It hard not to listen intently when he's speaking.  And the most emotionally gripping moments of this first hour happen while Braugher is speaking.  He is the main reason why I made that comment about the first five minutes in the above paragraph.  Andre Braugher doesn't sign up for a show for kids.

Captain Chaplin's second-in-command is the XO Lt. Commander Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman).  It's nice to see Speedman on television again.  I actually watched a lot (too much really) of Felicity on Netflix Streaming last year and wondered what ever became of young Mr. Speedman.  Since he starred on the WB drama, he starred in the first couple of Underworld movies.  Not great movies in my opinion, and it appears like they put an end to any movie career that Speedman may have been aspiring for.  Fortunately, television is a great place to turn to for career resurrection.  He has leading man potential and plays more than just a straight character is the pilot. He is put in some difficult positions and has to manage the various personalities and motives of his crew.

One potential problem with the character of Sam Kendal may involve his wife Christine (Jessy Schram).  I expect the two characters to be separated for most of early episodes of this show--if not more-- and it's not clear how Christine will fit into the show.  Right now, Sam's decisions are driven by a desire to return home to his wife. The character will need more depth than that of a man attempting to reunite with his wife as the show moves forward. Actually, for us to care about any such reunion, both characters need to be more fully developed. On Lost, there was the epic, long distance love story between Desmond and Penny.  That story arc was a both a critics and fan favorite.  It also played out over several seasons.  However, Desmond wasn't the male lead and Penny only appeared in a couple of episode per season.  A littlebit here and there went a long way.  For Last Resort, too much focus on husband pining for lovely wife could get tiresome.  I'm not expecting this to happen.  Just a minor concern I have after watching the pilot.

The character of Christine isn't the only question mark at this point.  For a 43 minutes segment of television, "Captain" had many characters with speaking parts. I might have to go back and count exactly (and then subtract the characters that don't survive through the first hour).  It's not entirely clear which characters are going to be part of the regular ensemble and which ones will be recurring or guesting.  I also brought this issue up with Go On, a half hour comedy.  The good news for Last Resort is that it's an hour long drama.  Therefore, there is more airtime available for a larger cast.  However, if the writers and execs do plan on having an ensemble comprised of 10-14 regular characters,  they shouldn't feel compelled to have them all appear in every single episode. While I thoroughly enjoyed this hour, there was a lot of exposition and plot.  One more reason why people may want to watch "Captain" more than once.

A couple other thoughts:
  • As mentioned earlier, this is a young cast.  Robert Patrick brings the average up a little bit with his character, COB Joseph Prosser.  Patrick may have most intriguing role in the pilot as a man with divided loyalties.  On the other end of the spectrum is Kylie Sinclair (played by Autumn Reeser). A character that lacks any connection to any of the other characters so far but basically serves as an exposition tool in the pilot. That character is the least interesting after 43 minutes.  I would like the younger characters and actors to be interesting enough to able to compete with the likes of Andre Braugher and Robert Patrick.  It will be an uphill battle.
  • The sub crew sets up station on the fictional Sainte Marina island.  I couldn't tell the exact geographic location of this fictional island.  Plus, we're not explicitly told which nation was the recognized authority over this island before the crew.  There is an exchange of dialogue between the SEAL James King (Daniel Lissing) and Julian Serrat (Sahr Ngaujah) that insinuates that Sainte Marina is under the control of the criminal Serrat.  However, if the island has inhabitants and businesses it must be under the control an actual country.  I am not saying that they would have a military stationed there.  But I think they would be the first country to be upset with the USS Colorado taking control of it.  
  • For months I have heard or read critics discuss this pilot on podcasts and blogs.  The one thing I encounter every time is that these critics have trouble envisioning the long game of this show.  That is what a lot of people said about Lost.  I don't know what this series will look like three episodes from now either.  At this moment, I don't really care.  I do know that Shawn Ryan (The Shield) is one of the creators of Last Resort and that I trust that he has some kind of plan.  
Today, I'm just pleased that the networks were able to give us one pilot that was this exciting.  I was beginning to lost faith in the whole system.  Well, I still have for the most part.  I just hope people tune in on Thursday nights to watch so we can get more episodes in the coming weeks.

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