Last Resort: enjoyable, but enigmatic

Last updated 09:52 20/11/2012

Among the new-season hype at this time of year, with shows making debuts on American networks from mid-September and our own channels doing their 2013 season launches - Mediaworks did theirs a couple of weeks ago and TVNZ did theirs last week; Prime TV has a launch this week, and I'll have the details here on Friday - one show has become an enigma: Last Resort.

20121120The show stars Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Street) and Scott Speedman (Felicity, the Underworld movies) as commanding officers of a nuclear submarine that becomes embroiled in a conspiracy after questioning a suspicious order to nuke a Middle East country, forcing the crew to take shelter on a fictional island in the Indian Ocean and hold the world hostage with their nuclear payload until they can clear their names and return home.

The series was created by Shawn Ryan, the man behind police drama The Shield, and seemed set to be one of the biggest hits of the new season: its network (ABC) had enough faith in it to put it up against The X Factor USA (Fox) and The Big Bang Theory/Two & A Half Men combo (CBS). It had a cool story, a great cast and the backing of its network. What could go wrong?

The show was cancelled last Friday.

Well, cancelled isn't really the right word: seven episodes of the show have aired so far, and ABC has committed to airing the remaining six episodes already in production. The show wasn't rating well in its target demographic (viewers aged 18-49), but it wasn't rating badly enough that ABC felt the need to yank it off the air immediately.

Even more puzzling is this: in spite of all the hype leading up to its debut, no major local network bothered to pick the show up for airing here in New Zealand.

Why?

For all I know, the show may have simply cost too much to buy for syndication here. But it does seem odd that such a high-profile show hasn't been snapped up by a network here.

I've seen the first few episodes. I thought they were quite good, with strong performances bolstering an interesting story and a fun Hawaii Five-0-meets-24 vibe. There were a couple of weak points, sure, but they weren't big enough problems to put me right off the show. In fact, now that it appears Last Resort may never make it to New Zealand screens, I'll probably invest a little of my internet cap and download the remainder of the season.

That none of our local networks picked up Last Resort is a worrying sign - another nail in the coffin for free-to-air serial drama. The failure of shows such as Justified, The Killing and Smash, all of which were moved to late night after rating miserably in prime time, have made our networks (understandably) cautious about serial drama.

It's also further proof that if a show isn't a mindless comedy, a predictable procedural or a forgettable reality show, then it is becoming increasingly hard to succeed overseas, and increasingly unlikely that a Kiwi free-to-air network* will take a punt on it.

RIP Last Resort. Your failure is surely another step toward the extinction of serial television on free-to-air channels. God help us all.

Why do you think serial shows, like Last Resort, are failing more frequently? Does Last Resort sound like an interesting show to you? Have you seen any episodes? What did you think of them? (Remember: no spoilers.)

(*) I'm being careful to clarify that I mean free-to-air channels - it won't be long before serial drama only exists as a television delicacy for the discerning viewer, on cable channels like AMC, HBO and Showtime (and our own SoHo).

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