Fall TV is in full swing, with a dozen new shows premiering this week alone, so we understand if you're a little confused on what to watch. Let us make it easy for you, then: Watch "Last Resort." ABC's new military thriller, about the crew of a Navy nuclear submarine getting caught up in an international crisis, wowed us with a nail-bitingly tense pilot that kept us right on the edge of our sofas; it's like a rip-roarin' Tom Clancy novel brought vividly to life on the small screen.
So what makes it so good? Well, read on: We've come up with a half-dozen reasons why we're ready to salute "Last Resort" as this fall's best new drama.
It has one of the most intriguing premises in years
We can't tell you how many TV pilots we have to sit through each year that are some variation on "An eccentric detective solves weekly mysteries!" or "A bunch of young friends help each other get through life!" So it's a relief to see something a little different, and "Last Resort" is definitely that: a high-stakes morality tale told on a high-tech nuclear sub with millions of lives hanging in the balance.
The crew of the U.S.S. Colorado, helmed by Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher), is cruising along when it receives a direct order: to fire one of its nuclear warheads on Pakistan. But the order comes from a secondary channel, and when Chaplin asks for confirmation, he's relieved of duty. When his executive officer Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) questions the order as well, the ship comes under attack. Is the U.S. government actually firing on its own men? Running for their lives, the Colorado seeks refuge on a "Lost"-esque tropical island, where Chaplin decides to utilize his ship's nuclear capability to keep his crew safe from enemies -- foreign or domestic.
It's a compelling tale that taps into today's uneasy global climate with uncanny precision, with plenty of geopolitical and philosophical layers. But above all, it's a great human story, thanks to the fully-realized characters aboard that sub. Which reminds us…
It has Andre Freaking Braugher
We know the man well from his Emmy-winning days as Detective Frank Pembleton on the late, lamented NBC cop show "Homicide: Life on the Street." (Hey Netflix: We wouldn't mind watching that again on streaming.) Braugher is the rare actor who truly commands the screen, and he's found the perfect role in Captain Marcus Chaplin: a man of honor betrayed by his own country, half noble warrior and half spurned lover. If "Last Resort" stays afloat, Braugher may want to make some more room on his Emmy shelf.
Get a sneak peek at "Last Resort" with this trailer:
And he's ably supported by a rock-solid cast, led by Speedman ("Felicity's" brooding Ben) as Chaplin's loyal right-hand man (and surrogate son) on the boat, and "Terminator 2" baddie Robert Patrick as iron-willed Master Chief Joseph Prosser, who doesn't like what Chaplin's doing one bit… but won't abandon his post, either. A pair of Australian newcomers stand out, too: Daisy Betts as the ship's eager navigator who's also the daughter of a respected admiral, and Daniel Lissing as an elite Navy SEAL who gets caught aboard the Colorado at the wrong time.
It looks and feels like a movie
Make sure you pop some popcorn and dim the lights before tuning into "Last Resort," because it's a big-budget thrill ride that feels like it belongs on a twenty-foot-high screen. There's a reason why you rarely seen military thrillers of this scope on TV: because they're damn expensive. But ABC pulled out all the stops with this one, delivering blockbuster-quality visual effects and not skimping on the deep-sea battle action. We don't know how many more hits the Colorado can take (or how many more our heart can take, for that matter), but we're glad we don't have to drive to the multiplex to see what happens next.
It's not dumbed-down
In the age of "Honey Boo Boo" (sigh), our minds are starved for televised entertainment that actually challenges us to fire up a brain cell or two. And "Last Resort" is just what the old noggin ordered, brimming with ethical ambiguity, philosophical debates, and deep military intrigue. There are so many plot threads going on in the premiere that we almost wanted to take notes. But it's refreshing that a TV series actually expects us to pay attention, and rewards that attention with top-notch storytelling for adults.
We don't know who to root for
From "Breaking Bad" to "Homeland," cable TV is lousy with antiheroes these days. But we don't often see a network drama explore as much moral gray area as "Last Resort" does. Chaplin's the protagonist here, but a thoroughly flawed one; it's kind of hard to get behind a guy who's threatening his own country with nuclear annihilation -- especially after a chilling final speech that's worthy of a Bond villain. No surprise, then, that "Last Resort" comes to us from Shawn Ryan, who created one of TV's great antiheroes in "The Shield's" crooked cop Vic Mackey.
We have no idea where it's going
With most TV shows, the first episode sets up a nice, easy formula for the rest of the series to follow. But after watching the "Last Resort" premiere, we can say without hesitation that we have no blessed idea where this show goes from here. Will Chaplin face the full wrath of the U.S. military? Will he trigger World War III? Will the island locals revolt against this hostile takeover? Where did that order come from, anyway? Ryan and co-creator Karl Gajdusek have started building a delicate house of cards; what the whole thing will look like when they're done, we have no clue... but we can't wait to find out.
Want to watch "Last Resort" right now? Check out the first episode in full right here:
"Last Resort" premieres Thursday, 9/27 at 8 PM on ABC.