Mention the name Andre Braugher to any fan of serious television over the age of 30, and you're likely to get a reverential reaction. And with good cause — his work as Detective Frank Pembleton on Homicide: Life on the Street belongs on any short list of best dramatic television performances of all time. Unfortunately, although it did run for six seasons, Homicide never quite caught on with audiences as it should have, and Braugher never became as famous as he deserved to be.
But things are looking up. His new show, Last Resort, comes with an intriguing premise: a crew of a nuclear submarine defies orders to fire on Pakistan and sets up shop on a remote island. It pairs him with an executive producer, Shield creator Shawn Ryan, who's worthy of his talents. And, while there are indications of a possible conspiracy at work, the focus here is squarely on the characters rather than any kind of overarching mythology.
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"It's not a geek show," says Braugher by phone from Hawaii, where the show films. "It's not what's happening with the reactor on the submarine."
The pilot is certainly effective. The cast may be a bit overcrowded, but it's a formidable group, including Scott Speedman as Sam Kendal, an officer with a wife back on dry land, and Daisy Betts as a lieutenant who has difficulty commanding respect, perhaps because she's the daughter of an admiral. The action moves at a brisk pace without alienating viewers. The submarine and island locales certainly look good. And Last Resort offers more than a few intriguing avenues for eventual plot developments — the cast is so large that Ryan could probably get two seasons out of just bouncing characters off each other. No smoke monsters here, though one would be forgiven for seeing a passing resemblance to Battlestar Galactica, given the claustrophobic atmosphere of the submarine, the grizzled intensity of the cast, and the "us-against-the-world" nature of the sailors.
"These men and women are patriots, they've defined themselves as sailors, and they're now accused of being renegades and rogues," says Braugher. "The heart of the show is the relationships between the people and how they're going to grow and change. It's a web of interrelated stories."
That said, Braugher, who researched the role by visiting actual nuclear submarines (though he does note that "they're not as concerned as I am with making television shows"), concedes that with a show of this magnitude, "All the parts have to come together. I believe all these stories will collide."
Certainly there are a lot of subplots in Last Resort. If the pilot — which, it should be noted, was directed by Martin Campbell, a guy with two James Bond films on his résumé — has a flaw, it's that it may be a little too overstuffed, bouncing between action on the sub, at a NATO base, on the island, and in Washington. But, of course, given the fickle nature of TV audiences, figuring out what to do in Last Resort's second season qualifies as a good problem to have.
"I don't think these stories are even cracked in the first 13 episodes," Braugher says. "I believe we're arcing toward some declaration that we will be a nuclear state and a sovereign nation. But in terms of scripts that have been cracked, we're up to seven maybe? The story questions are more guesses on my part." For the rest of us, too.