Not so long ago, the word blockbuster—the kind of high-explosion-ratio/low-rationality entertainment that may not be great art but offers plenty of summertime escapism—was reserved solely for the big screen. Then cable executives discovered counter-programming and proved they could build a profitable fan base when the temperature is above 90 degrees almost as well as when it’s below 70.
Fast forward to summer 2014 and audiences are as likely to see pirate ships, apocalypses, and alien invasions in their own living rooms as they are in a theater, with the names of Hollywood’s biggest movie moguls gracing the opening credits. So it’s no surprise that TNT is using its Sunday-night Spielberg success, Falling Skies, to lead into a new Michael Bay series, The Last Ship. Nor is it any surprise that the show is precisely what one would expect from the creator of Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and Transformers. The acting is wooden, the dialogue clunky, and the plot about a navy ship crew trying to find the cure to a global pandemic while fighting off rogue Russkis patently ridiculous. But darn if the thing doesn’t have you wanting to tune in next week to see what happens.
In his big, brash, artless appeal, Bay may be the quintessential American filmmaker, and what his show (given a stamp of approval by Rush Limbaugh, incidentally) says about the average American perspective is fascinating.
On the one hand, a female character casually tosses out that she’d been hoping to visit Paris with her girlfriend. On the other, a minister leads a funeral service with a prayer to the God who stilled the Sea of Galilee, solemnly noting that “all who believe in You will be raised to new life.” Throughout the show enough respect is paid to the U.S. military to leave even the most strident right-wingers happy. Yet the ship’s commander (Eric Dane) reminds his crew that “[their] duty is to the world.”
So here is America, Last Ship pronounces—an inclusive, pro–gay marriage, “Christian” nation populated with patriotic citizens of the world. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Paul meant when he advised being all things to all people.