First a disclaimer… I will watch absolutely anything starring Kiefer Sutherland. I even liked him in Melancholia which was a terrible movie. So my review of his new dramatic thriller Designated Survivor is naturally going to be biased. The title comes from the fact that whenever the president, vice president, cabinet, and Congress gathered together for the State of the Union Address, they always designate a low-level cabinet member to go to an alternate location in case of some disaster that would wipe out everyone. That way there would be a continuity of government because the Constitution says that after vice president and Speaker of the House the line of succession falls to individual cabinet members in a particular order.
Kiefer Sutherland plays the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Tom Kirkman who is appointed just such a designated survivor. Earlier in the day the president tells him that he has been “promoted” to an ambassadorship which is basically saying that you’re fired from the cabinet. But before that promotion/demotion is official, there is a terrorist attack on the capital building leaving Kirkman as the sole survivor of the administration and by default becomes the president.
Although Kirkman is much more mild-mannered than Sutherland’s more famous character Jack Bauer from “24“, you cannot look at the man and not say to yourself “Wow… Jack is back. And he’s in the Oval Office as president!” It’s sort of reminiscent of the series of Jack Ryan novels by Tom Clancy in which CIA agent Jack Ryan eventually becomes president in a backdoor kind of manner.
Kirkman is a family man. His wife is played by Natascha McElhone whom you may recognize for playing the wife of David Duchovny on Californication. He has a teenage son and a younger daughter who are whisked away into the White House and struggled to adapt to the new surroundings.
Other characters include a speechwriter played by Kal Penn and an FBI agent played by Maggie Q. Most of the people of the government don’t believe Kirkman is qualified to be president and he himself is uncertain of his role but determined to prove himself.
The show is portrayed reasonably believably. There is one scene in the opening episode where Kirkman wanders out to the White House portico to collect his thoughts shortly after the attack. There is no way the Secret Service will allow him in the open like that even within the secure confines of the White House. Especially just a few hours after a terrorist attack. He would either be locked in the underground bunker or in the air in Air Force One escaping the capital for security purposes.
There really isn’t a lot more to say about the show except that it’s very engaging and well done. I highly recommend it especially if you are a Kiefer Sutherland fanatic. I’m going to rate it “must-see” but keep in mind my bias.