June 19, 2014 at 1:00 am

Review: 'Last Ship' starts off strong, but wrong turns could scuttle its promise

Eric Dane, left, and Adam Baldwin must deal with untenable circumstances on TNT's 'The Last Ship.' (TNT)

“The Last Ship” sets sail on a strong premise. The question is whether it will be able to stay on course.

Produced by Michael Bay (“Transformers,” “Armageddon”) and based on a book by William Brinkley, “Ship” is your basic post-apocalyptic nightmare scenario set to sea. A disease has wiped out 80 percent of mankind, governments have crumbled, chaos reigns.

But most of those on board the USS Nathan James know nothing of this. The U.S. warship has been in the Arctic Circle for four months, conducting naval exercises with no radio communications. Or at least that’s what the crew thinks has been going on.

In truth, the ship was sent to its remote location so a scientist aboard, Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra), could search the ice for the key to a vaccine to the disease, which was just starting to take hold in the Middle East when the Nathan James hit the high seas.

Once Scott and a ground party come under fire from Russian helicopters, though, things look fishy. When Commander Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) tries to contact Washington, D.C., all he finds is a new president in an underground bunker who orders him to help Scott find the cure.

The crew soon realize many, if not most, of their loved ones are dead. And they are on a boat in the middle of nowhere. How will they even get the fuel to make it home? And if they do get home, do they dare step on land?

These problems and many more arise in Sunday night’s pilot episode. Nobody’s real thrilled with Dr. Scott, who’s kept this immense secret from them, least of all the boat’s executive officer, Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin). But her research becomes the boat’s real purpose.

You’d think a surplus of corpses, a deadly infection, 200 people trapped in close quarters, a dwindling food supply and no new “Walking Dead” episodes to watch would make for enough tension, but “The Last Ship” doesn’t stop there. By the time the show gets to its second and third episodes, our heroes are shooting it out with — kid you not — the Taliban and more of those pesky Russians.

Apparently an apocalypse doesn’t convince all survivors to sing “We Are the World” together.

Which may well be, but the geo-political turns the series makes are more than a bit heavy-handed, with one-dimensional bad guys absolutely oozing evil.

“The Last Ship” would be better off developing its own new society tensions, medical nightmares and primal-survival adventures than leaning on black-hat stereotypes. Maybe it will end up heading in that direction, maybe it will succumb to more common cliches and become lost at sea. It could float either way.

'The Last Ship'


9 p.m. Sunday