Last September, the television show Last Resort premiered on ABC. The show starred Homicide alum Andre Braugher as the captain of the nuclear missile submarine USS Colorado, given orders to nuke Pakistan. The Colorado is attacked by American forces after Braugher’s character refuses to fire. A chain of events is set in motion that leaves Colorado in control of a nearby tropical island, attempting to expose the truth of the US government’s involvement in the attack.
Despite a favorable critical reaction, the ratings were never where they needed to be. As a result, the show was canceled after thirteen episodes. For a four-part look back at the show, I am joined by my esteemed colleague, Jeff, blogger extraordinaire of Slazenger1.
Patches: Jeff, welcome!
Jeff: Thank you for the undeserved praise. I’m interested to see if we come up with anything new to say about this little show that we haven’t previously covered.
Patches: Haha. We ended up with 74 pages of email exchanges. It might be quicker to just watch the series again rather than re-read our emails. If you could boil 74 pages of thoughts and analyses into one word, what would it be? What adjective would you use to describe Last Resort?
Jeff: Whittling a series down to one word is difficult because it’s going to be pretty reductive. I could throw out negatives like “failure,” “disappointment” or “meh.” I could deal in positives with “thrilling,” “well-acted” or “effective.” I could also go with vagaries like “unique,” “submarine” or “action” (apologies if I’ve already mentioned your choice of word, Patches…I know you like submarines).
Jeff: I’m going to straddle the line a little bit here with my word: Overambitious.
It might be cheating a little bit to use a compound word, but breaking it down will help me to explain myself. First, the more positive root of the word: ambitious. Last Resort is a great example of a high concept show (just read the short description above). It went big right off the bat and got its hooks into me with the pilot episode. They were clearly going for action and adventure, with a touch of Lost (also filmed in Hawaii) and a little bit of submarine thriller thrown in. There was also character drama. There were conflicts between crew members, conflicts involving the islanders and most intriguingly, conflict between the Colorado and the US Government—OUR government (for a majority of viewers, I assume)—which nuked Pakistan as the series began. There were lots of complex and crazy places this show could go, and the pilot episode laid it all out on the table and had me (mostly) excited for more.
Now add the prefix and we get a little bit negative: OVERambitious. We’ll probably get into what, specifically, I see as the problems that plagued the show and possibly led to its cancellation, so I won’t go into too much detail here. There’s just so much introduced in the first episode of Last Resort that the series set itself up for failure, and if not failure, than at least some sharp growing pains and heavy course-correction. The pilot worked well on its own, but after a couple more episodes, the show was still giving us more new stuff without resolving, or spending adequate time with everything it originally introduced to us. That is to say, the ambition remained throughout the series (for the most part), which would work if the show was clearly building to something. Last Resort moved at a fast pace, but when you’re traveling at breakneck speed, any misstep could send you hurtling into the wrong direction, or worse yet, several different directions, with too much momentum to stop yourself.
I don’t know if that’s an adequate explanation of my one word, or if that even begins to describe our pages and pages of digital ink spilled on this 13-episode show, but I didn’t want to say everything up front. I really admire the show for its ambition, particularly exemplified in the pilot episode. However, to paraphrase Guns N’ Roses, I think it might have tried to do too much, too fast, too soon. What do you think, Patches? In hindsight, is there one word you would use to describe the series as a whole?
Patches: Whoa, was that a reference to an unreleased GNR song? I’ve never said this before, but I’ve been out-rocked!
Anyways, I think you really hit at the duality of this program. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a scripted program whose quality varied as wildly as Last Resort. The pilot (“Captain”) and a couple other episodes gave us fantastic drama, solid-to-great acting, and occasional emotional impact.
On the other hand, the show was also riddled with inaccuracies and insufferable dialogue while it hurtled through its episodes without regard for character development or emotional depth. The show was never downright terrible but sometimes it was unworthy of our valuable time.
If I had to condense Last Resort down to one word, that word would be “frustrating.” A serial drama set on a nuclear missile submarine? Geopolitical intrigue? My favorite actor in the lead role? Sweet Jesus, where do I sign up! I loved the pilot, and like you said, they could have spent the whole first season resolving the conflicts introduced in the pilot alone.
That said, they also probably should have. The show always wanted to try and cram more than it needed into every episode. Last Resort’s eyes were bigger than its stomach. We’ll go into more detail on that later, but the show was never as good as it could, or should, have been.
Jeff: I’ll echo your frustration as well. I’m not certain if the series hit the same highs for me as it did for you, but the best was quite different from the worst. Almost every show of any length has good and bad episodes, particularly within the first season, but more often than not a show stabilizes to some degree after the writers, actors and everyone involved sort of falls into a groove. I don’t think Last Resort quite hit that groove which is, as you say, frustrating.
You hint at this above noting that the show started strong and had a couple of other good episodes. I think it ended strong as well, but when some of the worst (relative to the rest of the series) episodes are falling toward the end of a 13-episode run (but prior to the cancellation notification), something clearly isn’t working correctly. To be fair, the show didn’t have a procedural formula or a structural gimmick to fall back on (a la pick-a-CBS-show’s case-of-the-week, Lost’s flashbacks or 24’s ticking clock) so there was more room for amorphous-ness to slip in. We got a tight pilot and then an explosion out in every direction which could make it difficult to follow the show and to feel much for any of the characters.
I feel like I’m mostly just bagging on the show so far, which isn’t something I really intended to do, though, as you might guess, that’s probably the general trajectory of my post-series opinion. Before I bring out the big knives, let’s talk about something good.
Patches: Yes, but tomorrow!
More Last Resort