For reasons I don’t quite understand, I enjoy following politics. I also enjoy watching political movies and TV shows because they usually have a happier ending than in real life.
When it comes to TV, one of my all-time favorite series is “The West Wing,” but there are others like “Madame Secretary.” Now we have the newest kid on the block, ABC’s Kiefer Sutherland led drama, “Designated Survivor.”
Sutherland plays Tom Kirkman, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who is vaulted into the highest office in the world when an act of terror during the president’s State of Union address kills everyone else in the line of succession ahead of him.
The series’ premise is probably far-fetched to some, but keep in mind it is based on real U.S. government practice. That being, that during the State of the Union, one cabinet member is taken to a secure location in case of a catastrophic event at the Capitol. If such an attack happened, the lone surviving cabinet member would take control of the country.
Like I said, this may sound far-fetched to many, but “Designated Survivor” is able handle this thanks to a sophisticated lead character played by Sutherland. He’s a normal guy, and he reacts to the Capitol attack like any of us would, with shock, sadness, and yeah, confusion. When he suddenly becomes President, Kirkman doesn’t get any respect as he asks rookie questions and is so overcome by panic and stress that he ends up vomiting in the men’s room.
But before you write this guy off let me say this: unlike his character in “24,” here, Sutherland is given a character who not only demonstrates emotional restraint in the most emotional of situations, but we also get a hint that there’s more to him than meets the eye. And much to my surprise, Kiefer Sutherland nails his performance.
Kirkman’s, family, naturally, plays a big role in the series. Alex (Natasha McElhone), is his devoted and successful wife, who only wants what’s best for him. Meanwhile, the Kirkmans’ two children are there to show us that Tom is a decent, upstanding guy, but not necessarily one who belongs in the White House.
Indeed, in a flashback to earlier that day, we find out that he’s been fired from his position, and movies to an obscure ambassadorship. He is so low on the totem pole that he’s not even fired by the president; but by the president’s chief of staff. So if he was fired, s he a legitimate President or not? Guess we have to watch to find out the answer to that.
The cast also includes speechwriter Seth Wright (Kal Penn) who already thinks Kirkman lacks the strength, intelligence,and experience to serve as president. Having been insulted as the worst possible choice to be President during a time of crisis, Kirkman admits he may not be the man for the job, but also doesn’t offer any indication that he plans on resigning. This is where we first see signs that Kirkman has what it takes to be POTUS.
The other main cast member is Maggie Q as Hannah Wells. She’s an FBI agent assigned to investigate the attack. But other than that, we really don’t get to know much about her in the pilot.
After one episode, it’s clear that Kiefer Sutherland and the character of Kirkman will be the glue that holds this show together. Wherever he goes, the show will go. But perhaps I’m saying this only because we just don’t much about the rest of the supporting cast yet.
That problem should be addressed in upcoming episodes, as we explore some of the plot threads introduced in the pilot, like: the discovery that the attack on the Capitol may just be the beginning of a much larger scale attack. And of course, there’s the opposition of Harris Cochrane (Kevin McNally), a military man who feels that the only way to appoint an appropriate leader might be to take Tom Kirkman out of the equation.
“Designated Survivor” final score: 8.5
“Designated Survivor” airs Wednesdays at 10pm on ABC.
Photos: Ben Mark Holzberg/ABC