A good pilot shows the potential for a show to develop into something worthwhile. A really good pilot hints at the possibility of excellence. A great pilot delivers on that possibility, throwing you full-throttle into a gripping TV world while leaving you desperate for the second episode.
Great pilots are rare. Last Resort has one.
ABC's new big-budget drama has an audacious premise: An American nuclear submarine goes rogue and takes over an island after being attacked by their own country because they question iffy orders to blow up Pakistan. It's a concept that could easily go wrong, but Last Resort gets it right.
The pilot feels like a mini action film — but a really good one, offering more interesting characters and solid acting than your average big-budget popcorn flick. It jumps right into the action, unobtrusively weaving in necessary exposition over the course of the episode; the writers find interesting ways to spell things out when needed, and trust the audience to fill in the gaps, showing an encouraging faith in their viewers' intelligence.
The structure of the show is easy to follow. You have your basic military hierarchy, headed by your classic honorable patriot; your special ops badasses who think they should be running the show; your shady government figures; your distraught wife back home. But in this case, familiarity is an asset. It allows the writers to establish status quo with a few broad strokes, and then blow it to smithereens halfway through the first episode. The pilot is dynamic and engaging without getting confusing.
Although few of the characters on the show are unexpected, good acting — or, in the case of two-time Emmy winner Andre Braugher, already notably great acting — smart writing, and unusual situations quickly turn archetypes into 3-D characters with potential for growth. Taking our military heroes off of their sub and onto the small tropical island that they commandeer while trying to regroup and figure out what's going on in Washington offers up a wealth of character storylines we've rarely seen before, at least not on TV.
The pilot isn't flawless — most notably, the drug lord who runs the island prior to the takeover is a bit of a stereotype and definitely a needless distraction — but it's pretty close. It is certainly one of the most exciting and well-executed first installments we've seen in years. And we're happy to say that the second episode, though not quite as good as the first, lives up to its promise, with more action, more interesting character dynamics, and more moral dilemmas.
It is the moral dilemma at the heart of the show that makes it stand out. The tagline is fitting: "Honor in Defiance." The question of What is honorable? is a strong throughline in the first two episodes. It is an especially timely theme.
On Sunday night, ABC has created a three hour timeslot of shows — Once Upon a Time, Revenge, 666 Park Avenue — that focus on the foibles and moral failures of the extremely rich and/or powerful. It's not hard to see why those themes appeal to the American audience at the moment.
Though Last Resort does not touch on wealth, it addresses the feeling of discontent with those in charge in a different, and perhaps more productive, way. Fundamental to its premise is the belief that, in the right circumstance, speaking out against the government can be the honorable — the patriotic — thing to do. From the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street, that's something that should resonate with people on all ends of the political spectrum.
Unfortunately, Thursday night at 8 p.m. is a crowded timeslot, already boasting ratings juggernauts like The Big Bang Theory and The X Factor. We can only hope that Last Resort's enduring themes, combined with its daring premise, engaging action, and excellent execution, earns it the audience it clearly deserves.
Interested? You can watch the pilot online here.
What It’s Like: The big-budget thrills and tropical location of Lost meet the political intrigue of 24, with added patriotism.
When It’s On: Premieres Thursday, September 27 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on ABC
Show Creator: Shawn Ryan (The Shield, The Unit, Lie to Me, Terriers, The Chicago Code), Karl Gajdusek (writer, Dead Like Me)
Stars: Andre Braugher, Scott Speedman, and Daisy Betts