In viewing the new shows for the fall season, one of them is a charged political thriller known as Designated Survivor, which features the return of Kiefer Sutherland to television at the center of a terrorist attack. The pilot premiered last Wednesday, and this is a review of the first episode and some spoilers for the first season of the new show.
The first thing that has to be said about Designated Survivor is that it fills in an action/thriller/political genre gap in television that has been left blank since the discontinuation of 24. I'm not certain if it is the presence of Kiefer Sutherland is the reason for that, but I was having flashbacks of Jack Bauer the moment Sutherland began to speak.
Sutherland has his name on the credits as the executive producer, and I am wondering if I would stop comparing Designated Survivor to 24 if he was absent. The issue is that the show covers some familiar material as it shows an ordinary man tossed into a terrorist situation and forced to play a major role.
The premise of Designated Survivor is very similar to a work from Tom Clancy known as Executive Orders, where the iconic hero Jack Ryan is propelled into the leading position at the White House after an attack with every executive, legislative, and judicial figure being killed. In the case of Designated Survivor, Kiefer Sutherland is a low-level cabinet member who is told that he would be the designated survivor.
Even Sutherland's character, Tom Kirkman, did not know what that is. The show informs us in text at the beginning that it is when a certain cabinet member is hidden away in case of a devastating attack. Apparently, this is based on a real practice in American politics.
Designated Survivor begins with the literal point of attack as an explosion takes out the Capitol Building during the U.S. President's State of the Union Address. Kirkman is told that he is going to be president, and he is sworn in wearing a hoodie while his wife Alex (Natascha McElhone) holds the bible.
The big question is who is the mastermind behind the explosion, and there is time devoted to the investigation. Hannah Wells is the one helping with that, and she is played by Maggie Q, who is a veteran of espionage movies. As you might have guessed, the actual culprit of the heinous act was not found on the pilot.
As for the aftermath of the attack, Kirkman has his hands full as a certain General named Harris Cochrane (Kevin McNally) wants to attack Iran. Cochrane is that military character you see in a lot of action films that just really wants to go to war at any provocation.
Kirkman doesn't green-light Cochrane's plans for attack, as it shows him taking the diplomatic route. There is a scene where he has a sit-down with an Iranian ambassador, and Kirkman talks pretty tough with him. Again, I can't help but see Jack Bauer doing this, but at least he doesn't have to use the torture that made 24 so controversial.
Yes, the show is definitely 24's spiritual successor. Like Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, we get to see what happens when the now iconic defender of justice Jack Bauer is Commander-in-Chief. The first episode ends with Sutherland saying the traditional address of "My Fellow Americans", then not a preview of what will be in the next episode, but will be happening in the entire season.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, future episodes will be about the investigation, and the second really needs to address how the nation is recovering over an event comparable to 9/11. It looks like Kirkman's son is some sort of drug dealer, which will definitely affect his administration.
The big question is why Kirkman was selected to be the designated survivor. Is there some bigger plan that the terrorists are involved in, does it go straight to the top, and is Kirkman some pawn in it?