Designated Survivor: The Complete First Season
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Kiefer Sutherland is a lower-level government Cabinet member whose life changes forever in one of the most thrilling and suspenseful dramas to hit the airwaves: ABC's DESIGNATED SURVIVOR: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON. Hours after a catastrophic explosion claims the lives of the President and his remaining cabinet, "designated survivor" Tom Kirkman (Sutherland) suddenly finds himself appointed President of the United States. Now the new, completely unprepared, Commander-in-Chief must struggle to hold together a country on the brink of imploding -- against a chaotic backdrop of shocking conspiracies, thinly-veiled agendas and raw emotions. But the biggest challenge of all will come when it appears the attack on the Capitol was not the work of foreign terrorists, but someone much closer to home... Experience every edge-of-your-seat moment with all 21 riveting episodes -- plus behind-the-scenes special features that draw you deeper into the intricate web of intrigue that is DESIGNATED SURVIVOR.
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A man of academia and a pushover dad, Thomas Adam Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) has snagged possibly the least respected Cabinet post, the lowest in the pecking order. He's the Secretary of Housing & Urban Development. And, on this horrible day, he'd just gotten sacked, or, to couch it in more diplomatic terms, he'd just been reassigned to an ambassadorship. And, yet, he still has to fulfill an obligation: He's been tapped as the Designated Survivor, the poor sap who has to sit out the gala event of the State of the Union address. So, when the fit hits the shan, when an explosion rocks the Capitol Building and wipes out pretty much the entirety of Congress and the Cabinet, there's the Secretary of H.U.D. in shock in his grey Cornell hoodie. Right away, Tom Kirkman cuts a most sympathetic figure.
It's such an outrageous premise, only someone like Kiefer can pull it off. Anyone else, and I'd be snorting with disbelief and channel surfing on. But there's compelling gravitas to Kiefer, and an everyman charisma. I believed him utterly as the ruthless Jack Bauer, and I believe him now as the sincere and sudden and in-over-his-head leader of the free world. He is magnetic. What this show does brilliantly is turn the Presidency into an underdog story. Observe Kirkman, an old-school straight shooter, strive to corral sundry government entities suddenly jockeying for power, because nature abhors a vacuum. But the man has to first earn respect from subordinates who all the time give him the side eye and would rather that he'd act the figurehead. See Kirkman arrive at various crossroads, wrestling with having to compromise his values to get the job done. See him make the tough choices. It's as if around every corner someone's casting doubt or frankly challenging the legitimacy of his Presidency. It's such a ridiculous turn of events. Again, if this weren't Kiefer in the eye of the storm, I would jump ship in a heartbeat. But Kiefer as POTUS is an irresistible conceit.
An intriguing ongoing story arc looks to be the whodunit mystery of the assault on the Capitol Building. Not so intriguing is the focus on Kirkman's family life, specifically the focus on his son. I absolutely have no use for the tired trope of the troubled child, of this kid Leo (Tanner Buchanan) who writes code for dub-step tracks and who sells drugs. He's like a worse version of Kim Bauer.
Conversely, the little girl who plays the daughter, Penny, is adorable.
It's a hell of a capable cast. I love Natascha McElhone as the level-headed First Lady, Adan Canto as the ambitious (and kinda shady) aide, Italia Ricci as Kirkman's loyal Chief of Staff, and Kal Penn as the political speech writer who's got the pulse of the public. I'm not quite as sold on Maggie Q's frantic FBI agent, but I'm willing to be convinced.
I'm stoked about this show, and gratified that it's, lived up to the hype. Season 1 in, and we've been exposed to twisty political shenanigans and savage backbiting. We've been introduced to at least three main baddies to undermine this untested Commander-in-Chief. The best quote comes from Kal Penn's character who delivers an astute observation regarding Kirkman's perhaps most sly adversary: "She's so political she doesn't even seem political." Heh.
One of my favorite reads by Tom Clancy is his 1996 thriller, Executive Orders, which shares a similar premise to this show. It's a good comparison, I think. Clancy's go-to hero, Jack Ryan, has always been a thinking man's hero. Tom Kirkman tracks to be of similar mettle. And, yet, I wouldn't be too gobsmacked if, somewhere down the line, he'd require a Jack Bauer type to handle some dirty business. Mister, if you dabble in politics, you ain't coming out clean.