Actors Autumn Reeser, Andre Braugher, Scott Speedman and Daisy Betts speak onstage at the 'Last Resort' panel (Photo Courtesy: Getty Images)
For the crew of the nuclear submarine USS Colorado to survive, cooler heads will have to prevail.
Admittedly, the prospects of TV survival for Last Resort (* * * out of four; ABC, Thursday, 8 ET/PT) grow a bit less likely next week, with an off-kilter second episode that crosses from hyperbole to hysteria. But Thursday's more-promising launch of this taut conspiracy/adventure carries off one of the season's riskiest and most intriguing premises in much more promising fashion -- and as promise is in limited supply this season, let's just assume the first outing is more indicative of where this sub is sailing.
Created by Karl Gajdusek and The Shield's Shawn Ryan, who knows something about risks and about keeping complicated conspiracy series afloat, Last Resort is a convincingly produced thriller with more than action on its mind.
VIDEO: See a clip of 'Last Resort'
As a constitutional crisis roils Washington, American sub captain Marcus Chaplin receives a mysterious order to launch a nuclear weapon against Pakistan. When he asks for a more formal confirmation, his sub is attacked by our own Navy -- forcing him and his crew to seek refuge at a remote island until they can figure out who is behind the conspiracy and how they can prove they're heroes rather than traitors.
That's a lot for one pilot to ask, as it requires us to accept that some rogue arm of our government would nuke Pakistan and attack one of our own subs while also asking us to believe that one man could persuade his crew to follow him into exile.
While the first part is still up for debate, the second hurdle proves to be easily surmounted. All it took was turning the captain's role over to Andre Braugher, a terrifically capable actor who exudes such wry intelligence and steely authority, you immediately believe that most of his men and women would follow him anywhere.
Will we? Well, it helps that he's getting strong support from Scott Speedman, who is making a welcome leading-man return to TV as Marcus' second in command, and that many of his adventures will play out against a lush landscape (with Hawaii supplying visual splendor, as it did for Lost).
The show also has a wide range of stories at its command: the mystery playing out in Washington; the internal fights among the crew; the split opinions of the islanders; and Marcus' chess game with his adversaries. And don't discount the appeal of that sub, which adds a high-tech edge of claustrophobia.
Still, this is a show walking a tightrope, and next week it falls off, as the relative restraint of Thursday's pilot is thrown over for an overdose of melodrama. Too many performances become too broad (whether it was his choice or the director's, the last thing this show needs is Robert Patrick chewing the scenery as the sub's master chief), and too much of what happens in Washington raises concerns that the conspiracy plot is going to spiral out of control, as has happened in so many other shows.
If you want us to stay onboard, you'd better calm the waters.