Creator(s): David Guggenheim
Network/Writer(s): ABC/David Guggenheim
Director: Paul McGuigan
Actors: Keifer Sutherland, Natasha McElhone, Maggie Q, Kal Penn, Adan Canto
Tagline/Summary: A low-level Cabinet member becomes President of the United States after a catastrophic attack kills everyone above him in the Presidential line of succession.
Some premises are exciting on paper and may even be well executed, but still fall flat because we’ve seen the story a million times before. David Guggenheim’s fish-out-of-water, political thriller shows no real differences between those similar stories that came before it on the big or small screen.
The titular plan in the US Government is unique, but only holds its difference as a plot device for a brief amount of time. Once the swearing-in ceremony occurs, it feels like we will meet a Jack soon, whether it be Bauer or Ryan, and the show will turn into an action movie as we figure out what happened. The political intrigue is boring and easy to predict, and it looks like that’s where the show will hang its hat.
Kiefer Sutherland is no stranger to terrorist attacks and conspiracies, but Designated Survivor, is a bit of a role reversal. He plays Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (definitely not a CTU agent), Tom Kirkman, who is the only member of the Presidential line of succession to not attend the State of the Union. This position is known as the designated survivor and guarantees that our government continues even in the wake of a catastrophic attack. Even though I was hoping for a little Clark Kent/Superman when Sutherland’s character would remove his glasses, but alas, it was not meant to be. The show’s premise is unique, but the story is very predictable and stale.
Even without Jack Bauer, that role seems to be Maggie Q’s on the show, Sutherland still finds a way to make his character relatable and real. Even though the situation presented is a bit over the top, it is one that could happen. What Sutherland does best is not play Kirkman as a superhero, but rather, a guy just trying to survive an unprecedented event — he’s a regular guy in an irregular situation.
Designated Survivor has everything you would want in a political intrigue show, sprinkled with a pinch of conspiracy theory. Unlike Madame Secretary, Designated Survivor‘s plot is cohesive and doesn’t take a strange turn 20 minutes in, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t eye-rolling in it execution. Sutherland’s performance is the only thing I would call above average, which means it shouldn’t have a long run because it’s foundation is weak. If it does make it, it should be only one season because it feels too thin to stretch across multiple seasons.