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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2012-2013 season, now in its seventh year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
LAST RESORT (ABC)
(written by Karl Gajdusek & Shawn Ryan; directed by Martin Campbell; TRT: 43:18)
The network's description: "500 feet beneath the ocean's surface, the U.S. ballistic missile submarine Colorado receive their orders. Over a radio channel, designed only to be used if their homeland has been wiped out, they're told to fire nuclear weapons at Pakistan. Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher) demands confirmation of the orders only to be unceremoniously relieved of duty by the White House. XO Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) finds himself suddenly in charge of the submarine and facing the same difficult decision.
When he also refuses to fire without confirmation of the orders, the Colorado is targeted, fired upon, and hit. The submarine and its crew find themselves crippled on the ocean floor, declared rogue enemies of their own country. Now, with nowhere left to turn, Chaplin and Kendal take the sub on the run and bring the men and women of the Colorado to an exotic island. Here they will find refuge, romance and a chance at a new life, even as they try to clear their names and get home."
What did they leave out? A lot, but that's part of the fun.
The plot in a nutshell: The U.S.S. Colorado is a well-oiled machine, home to 18 nuclear warheads and run by the vaunted Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher). That's contrary to the government, where generals are resigning left and right over the behavior of the divisive President, who's about to face an impeachment vote. Said worlds collide when the Colorado receives a suspicious order to fire on Pakistan from a station in Antarctica, outside the usual channels. When Chaplin calls to verify, the Deputy Secretary of Defense inexplicably relieves him of duty, placing the sub in command of Sam Kendal (a more than welcome back to TV Scott Speedman), his loyal First Officer with a devoted wife (Jessy Schram) back home. Kendal likewise can't bring himself to fire, prompting an outside attack that nearly kills them all.
Branded traitors by their own government, the crew seeks sanctuary at a NATO early warning station on the island of Sainte Marina. There they find even more problems: from Julian Serrat (Sahr Ngaujah), the local "mayor" who's none too thrilled by their incursion; to James King (Daniel Lissing), part of a recently picked up SEAL team who's under mysterious orders of his own. Back home, the aforementioned events are being twisted by the White House to say Pakistan was the one that fired on the Colorado. The only one person who's not buying it is Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser), a military contractor with sources that say otherwise. She brings her concerns to Admiral Arthur Shepard (Bruce Davison), who's inclined to believe her as his daughter Grace (Daisy Betts) is a Lieutenant on board the sub. From there things get only crazier, proving nothing will ever be the same again.
What works: There's an ambition and scope to this series that's almost unprecedented, all done with a confidence and sense of purpose that lives up mightily to the auspices involved. In other words, this is what TV should be. It's also one of those rare shows that manages to sidestep the obvious "what is episode two?" question by making the aforementioned events the backdrop to the characters, not vice versa. There's nearly two dozen speaking roles in "Last Resort," and the show improbably gives dimension to them all, from the heavies like Braugher and Speedman to the lower decks characters like Will Rothhaar's beatboxing Brannan or Max Adler's sexist Stern. It ultimately makes the show feel like a living, breathing community rather than captain, his lieutenants and the red shirts.
More inspiring however is that "Last Resort" is actually about something, and by something I mean not just closing cases or selling soap. It's about honor and duty and the consequences of the decisions we make. It's about what it takes to put country before family and justice above friendship, discussions which somehow don't get suffocated in its high concept mechanizations. And if that wasn't enough, you get to see Andre Braugher in all his gravitas glory, one that the show leverages into creating a unique space. Is this a show about a group of loyal men and women following their idealistic leader or are these foolish boys and girls duped into following their own version of Col. Kurtz? It's a debate the culminates in one of those great pilot closing moments that turns the volume up everything we've just seen not to mention injects a wonderful excitement over what's to come.
What doesn't: Not surprisingly considering it's a show set on a submarine, any time we leave said convinces the story momentum slows down. Whether it's a flashback to Kendal and his wife or Sinclair's sleuthing of the military industrial complex, they're less fun - albeit necessary in some cases - detours from the action.
The bottom line: Mark your calendars kids, this is the one to watch.