ABC is hoping for some West Wing-style magic with their new show, Designated Survivor. If you are a fan of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels, you’ll remember that at one point, the Capital is attacked, all are killed, and Jack becomes President. Same premise here, except Kiefer Sutherland plays Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Kirkman, an unelected appointee. On the night of the attack, he is taken to an undisclosed location to act as the “designated survivor” in case of a hypothetical attack, and when the attack actually happens, he is sworn in as President.
When I saw the premise for the show, part of what turned me off was the producer pitching it to the press that this would be a great show for having political conversations representing both sides of the aisle, with smart people on both sides coming forward with solid commentary, arguments, etc. Tackling the issues that our current political climate can’t. In other words, verbal masturbation rather than focusing on what people tune in for…things like characters, plot, dialogue.
I even went so far as to suggest, sight-unseen, that the show would go no more than 4 episodes and get early cancellation. Having watched Ep 1, I think I grossly underestimated its potential. While pilots get tweaked within an inch of their life, and are no indication of how good of quality will follow in subsequent episodes, Kiefer Sutherland was awesome. Looking for his Presidential voice, he finds it in a meeting with the Iranian ambassador.
I’m not thrilled with the secondary characters. A general whose straight out of central casting as a buffoon stereotype “give em hell” leatherneck. A wife who may have potential but seems a bit sappy in places. Two kid characters whose storylines will no doubt be highly annoying for some time to come. Some bit players trying to support the President (his old chief of staff/policy analyst/EA, new speechwriter, acting Chief of Staff, etc.) seem okay but only one or two have any gravitas. And then there is the other “star”.
Maggie Q. I wasn’t expecting much, and was pleasantly surprised. She plays an FBI psy-ops agent investigating the explosion at the capital, and while she normally is highly physical in her roles, this one so far was more under-stated analyst-like duties. Didn’t suck.
Overall, the show has potential as long as it avoids the spin the producer was pitching to the TV press. I gave it my “1 episode” test, and while I’m not willing to commit to a long-term viewing relationship, I’m willing to go on a second watching date. As for the show’s longevity, I think it could either be gone in 10 episodes if the quality drops or run 7 seasons. If it makes it past mid-season, I’d up my bet for renewal.