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Television Review

‘Last Ship’ navigates a sea of clichés

The three most crucial words viewers need to know about TNT’s new action drama “The Last Ship,” premiering Sunday at 9 p.m., are “From Michael Bay.”

The man behind such booming, big-budget, summer blockbuster flicks as the “Transformers” franchise, “Armageddon,” and the recent swashbuckling Starz series “Black Sails,” is charting a course for adventure with this new 10-episode yarn about a global pandemic and the two people who can help stop it: Captain Tom Chandler, commander of the Navy destroyer the USS Nathan James, and Dr. Rachel Scott, a brilliant paleomicrobiologist who might just have the skills to make the vaccine that will save the world.

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But this ain’t no love boat, at least not in the first few episodes as Chandler (Eric Dane, “McSteamy” to all you “Grey’s Anatomy” fans) and Scott (Rhona Mitra of Cinemax’s “Strike Back,” who was also seen sucking blood in the deliciously ridiculous summer series “The Gates”) are all about the icy exchanges and hard-headedness that comes with always believing that you are right.

The series opens with the obligatory “small foreign village is hit by yucky outbreak” scene and quickly shifts to the Nathan James, where Scott claims she is going on a birdwatching expedition to the Arctic but is actually secretly working on a vaccine. But when Chandler and his crew break radio silence after four months, they discover that most of the world has been decimated by a virus and the survivors have fallen into government-free chaos. It’s all news to them, creating enmity between them and Scott, who knew all along. And, naturally, there is a mole.

While no one here is likely to win an Emmy for acting or writing — although the gifted effects and technical crew should win a boatload — prestige is not the point of a show like “The Last Ship,” which is based on the novel by William Brinkley.

The point is supporting characters spouting military lingo about neutralizing hostiles as incoming missiles are dodged. The point is alpha dogs Chandler and his XO Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin, the beloved Colonel John Casey of “Chuck” and Jayne of “Firefly”) butting heads over how to proceed while trying and failing to make dialogue like “Time is something we don’t have!” not sound like it is made of solid oak.

The point is that the world is in danger and only this hot British scientist and this stoic Navy captain and his tried-and-true — and uniformly attractive — crew of flinty/sardonic/nervous/courageous sailors can save them, dammit. Plus, there are rows and rows of extras gruesomely made up to look like victims of a swift and deadly virus, and stuff explodes.

If this “Battleship” meets “Contagion,” tension plus ick factor, hazmat-suits-for-all! kind of tale is your bag of summer escapism, then by all means climb aboard “The Last Ship.” It may be all formula and archetypes, but that’s Bay’s bread and butter, and the first two hours pack enough oomph to make you want to see what happens when the “Ship” finally pulls into port.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at srodman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.
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