Once, people feared the world would end in a mass conflagration followed by a nuclear winter and ultimate demise either from radiation poisoning or mass infertility.
At least that’s what William Brinkley had in mind when he wrote his 1988 post-apocalyptic novel called “The Last Ship.” Well, this is 2014, and we’ve got more things to worry about now, so when TNT premieres its 10-episode series adaptation of “The Last Ship” on Sunday, it’s not nuclear war that devastates the world, but a mysterious plague.
Michael Bay (“Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor,” “I Am Number Four”) is executive producer, along with writers Hank Steinberg and Steven Kane (also, Jonathan Mostow directed the pilot).
Eric Dane (“Grey’s Anatomy”) stars as Commander Tom Chandler, the captain of the fictional warship the USS Nathan James, which, after the pandemic hits, is carrying scientist Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) and her experiments, which may just yield a cure.
Also starring are Adam Baldwin (“Chuck,” “Firefly”) as second-in-command Mike Slattery; Charles Parnell as Hugh Jeter, the ship’s master chief; and Travis Van Winkle as SEAL team leader Danny Green.
Joining them are Tracy Middendorf, Jocko Sims, Christina Elmore, Michaela McManus, Sam Spruell and Marissa Neitling.
But, despite the devastation of the world, the Nathan James is not alone on the seas, and on this day on the show’s indoor sets in Manhattan Beach, Calif., a tense scene is being shot as the ship attends to slip away from an enemy vessel.
Other California locations include the decks of the USS Dewey, in port in San Diego (the USS Halsey, which was then in port, was used for the pilot); the former cruise liner RMS Queen Mary, berthed in Long Beach; and the USS Iowa museum ship, berthed at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro (standing in for a Russian vessel).
Tucked into the tight quarters of the bridge set, Dane, Baldwin, Mitra and other cast members create palpable tension as they work to keep control during a dangerous maneuver.
“Maybe that’s why I like this character so much,” Mitra says of the tough-minded Scott. “She rolls like a guy.”
It’s the combination of external peril and internal discipline that lies at the heart of “The Last Ship,” filmed with the cooperation of the U.S. Navy.
“How do they hold it together?” asks Steinberg. “How do they preserve the hierarchy and the structure of a system that has worked so well for hundreds of years? How do they hold it together when there’s a collapse of government, when there’s no higher authority, when these people are not getting paid?
“What happens when the enlistments run out? How does the captain hold that group together? So it was very important to us to have the semblance of what Navy life was like to be very realistic, because the show is really about, how do you uphold that?
“How do you maintain order in the midst of chaos?”
The son of a Navy man with other service members in his ancestry, Dane was also attracted to the military discipline — and the uniform — but as a husband and father of two (his character also has a wife and children), it didn’t stop there.
“The world becomes a really scary place once you have kids,” he says. “It becomes a very scary place. I can’t imagine there’s not some element of me thinking about my family in every single scene, every single decision I make on this journey we’re taking here.
“While I have the world to think about and a crew to think about, and I have to make decisions that are for the greater good of them, which therefore are for the greater good of mankind, I also have to think about decisions that are going to affect my family.
“So I’ve got to compartmentalize a lot of stuff and selflessly put a lot of stuff before my wife and kids, who are the most important thing to me.”
Baldwin also wants to emphasize that this is not “Mutiny on the Bounty.”
“This one,” he says, “remains loyal to God and country and flag and discipline and all of that, with dramatic aspects that have to come in. You have to have some dynamic tension.
“I’m proud to be aboard ‘The Last Ship.’ The cast and crew are completely professional. Eric Dane is powerful and strong in his leadership role. Doing scenes with him is great and easy and fun. He’s a guy’s guy.
“I’m just honored to be part of such a great company that has given us the opportunity to be on board a Navy craft and work with the Navy and be respectful of the Navy, salute the flag.”
Baldwin also has to salute Dane, who quips, “You haven’t lived until you’ve been saluted.”