Punchy and incredibly watchable, Designated Survivor delivers on all fronts as entertaining television. Kiefer Sutherland anchors the show with a restrained but strong performance, which lets him show a different style and range from his trademark Jack Bauer role in 24.
Sutherland is Tom Kirkman, a low-level (and little respected) politician who becomes President of the United States when the entire US government is destroyed by an attack on the United States Capitol building. Sutherland was the Designated Survivor, a politician who remains behind incase such a tragedy occurs. Kirkman was a failsafe, but one that was never intended to be implemented. He’s sworn into the Presidency while the US is still reeling from the attack and he must find his feet and build a government when everyone expects him to fail. On top of that, he must bring the people responsible for the tragedy to book.
US politics is very much at the forefront of the media at the minute with Donald Trump slowing making the country a worldwide laughingstock and Kevin Spacey playing Machiavellian games in Netflix’s House of Cards. However, there’s room for Designated Survivor, a show that manages to mix family drama and political intrigue in equal measure.
Sutherland might be the star of Designated Survivor but the supporting cast hold their own. Natascha McElhone plays Kirkman’s wife and First Lady and she helps sell the family drama elements which could very easily have become a burden. Kal Penn plays Kirkman’s speechwriter and sounding board, a role made all the more curious considering Penn worked as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement in Barack Obama’s administration (Penn also serves as a political consultant on the show). Maggie Q, Italia Ricci and Virginia Madsen also do good work and their strong roles help make Designated Survivor more of an ensemble than a star vehicle.
Designated Survivor might not have the acidy bite of House of Cards, but it’s highly entertaining stuff. The acting is good, the writing captivating and it works well as good television. It’s worth watching but the 21 episodes make it more of a marathon than a binge-watch sprint.