Pros: Strong characters and mostly interesting storylines
Cons: Gets predictably preachy at times
The Bottom Line:
Struggling new President
Flaws, but mostly fun
“You Had a Change of Circumstance in a Summer Blockbuster Kind of Way.”
As a longtime fan of both 24 and the most recent Nikita, there was no way I could pass up Designated Survivor. Kiefer Sutherland and Maggie Q in a political thriller? How could it go wrong? So the first season didn’t quite live up to all my hopes, I did enjoy it overall.
The show opens on the day of the State of the Union Address as we meet Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland). He’s a political independent serving under a Democrat President, and that day President Richmond (Richard Bekins) has two requests of him – one step down as Secretary and two, be the designated survivor. He wants Tom to skip the State of the Union and instead stay in a bunker just in case there happens to be an attack on the Capital during the speech. This way, there is someone in the line of succession to take over as President.
This particular night, the unthinkable does happen and the Capital blows up during the middle of the speech, leaving Tom as the President. He, along with his wife and kids, move into the White House, and he starts trying to run a government in the middle of a crisis. He leans heavily on Aaron Shore (Adan Canto), Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci), and Seth Wright (Kal Penn) to help him do this.
Meanwhile, the FBI start to investigate the bombing. Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) lost her boyfriend in the attack, and she is taking it personally. She also finds some things that don’t line up with the official explanation. Is there a conspiracy? Where and when might they strike again? What is the ultimate goal?
I’ve already mentioned 24, and I think any show with this plotline starring Kiefer is going to get compared to his earlier show. Those looking for a conspiracy thriller will find episodes in this season to enjoy. Hannah Wells is driving most of the investigation, and it features some twists and turns and close calls over the course of the season. We wrap up a good portion of it here, although there are still things that could be explored further in season 2.
The other show that is an appropriate comparison is The West Wing. When the conspiracy isn’t moving forward, we are seeing just how the new President Kirkman is handling his job. To say he is overwhelmed at first is an understatement, yet I enjoyed seeing him navigate these waters. The way he came up with solutions to problems was often very well done. His instincts and willingness to learn are spot on.
Of course, this part of the show is the part that could annoy me the most. The show makes no bones about political parties of the politicians involved. At times, these political skirmishes are fun to watch, but at times I feel that they created stereotypical Republicans to be the bad guy of the moment. Honestly, that’s one reason I only made it through season one of The West Wing. And don’t get me started on the episodes that brought up gun control or some of their other politically correct preaching.
One thing I really appreciated about this show was the President’s family. While he and his wife Alex (Natascha McElhone) didn’t always see eye to eye, they basically had a solid marriage, and worked hard to keep it that way. Early on, it looked like the teenage son was going to get a Kim Bauer storyline (I can’t stop the 24 references), but they fortunately dropped that after a few episodes. When he did get a significant storyline later in the season, I loved how it was handled and how it played out. And the young daughter? She was just there for an adorableness factor, and she always delivered. Honestly, these characters truly helped humanize Kirkman, which was important to his character.
The show had quite a few changes behind the scenes, going through three show runners over the course of this one season. That helped make the show seemed even more fractured and the duality even more apparent as different people emphasized different aspects and some storylines got dropped or changed. The show has been picked up for season 2, and we will get yet another new show runner this season, so we shall see what the show becomes when it starts up again next month.
All of this gives the actors quite a bit to deal with, and they handle it all very well. I didn’t find a weak one in the bunch.
Season 1 consisted of 21 episodes, and they are preserved here in their native wide screen and full surround sound. Extras consist of the entirety of Kirkman’s first speech as President (basically an extended scene), a tour of the White House set, and behind the scenes featurette.
While the preaching annoyed me, I still mostly enjoyed season 1 of Designated Survivor. Here’s hoping that season 2 will keep the entertainment without resorting to preaching.
Season 1 Episodes:
2. The First Day
3. The Confession
4. The Enemy
5. The Mission
6. The Interrogation
7. The Traitor
8. The Results
9. The Blueprint
10. The Oath
12. The End of the Beginning
15. One Hundred Days
16. Party Lines
17. The Ninth Seat
21. Brace for Impact