So my dad is one of these people that always is recommending things to watch or see or listen to. He spends a lot of time driving round the country for his job and is self-employed and so has a Lot of time to consume basically every TV series under the sun and, as a by-product, I am often recommended things with phrases like ‘Ah, it’s so so good’ to ‘Yeah, I’d give it a watch’. It was no surprise then that this show crossed my radar. I watched this all on Netflix, although it is produced by ABC for the United States.
Designated Survivor starts with Tom Kirkman, a former architect professor and current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who is watching the State of the Union address from a secure room in the White House. He is, you guessed it, the Designated Survivor. Then disaster strikes and the Capitol building is blown up, killing the President and everyone in the presidential line of succession. In the chaos, Kirkman is sworn in as President immediately, and that is just the start of his worries. Setting up an entirely new government, conspiracy theory plots, rogue FBI agents and much more, this series definitely does not have a problem of a lack of plot.
The reason I love this series so much is not that it’s the greatest thing ever made. Some of the acting is a bit wooden/ clunky at times, some characters get stuck in stereotypes (like Seth (Kal Penn), who may be my favourite characters, does tend to get sidelined as “Good Press Secretary” but there is a wonderful few scenes in an early episode exploring his experiences after the terror attack as an Asian male), some of the lines are cheesily American, some characters do seem to be forgotten about simply because of the amount of work the show is trying to do to pull it all together, and people are bound to whinge about it “Not being realistic”. (To those people saying it is unrealistic I point you to Kal Penn who, as well as acting in it, supervised on the script after being an Associate Director in the White House’s Office of Public Engagement. So there.)
However none of this is overwhelming and the most compelling thing about the series is I care. I find with political thrillers recently that everyone is in a rush to give us an Anti-Hero as an emblem of corrupt politics, that politicians don’t really care, that people get screwed over every day for the success of one person. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing way too much of that in real political discourse at the moment and really want to use TV as an escape route. I waited for ages for Kirkman to be corrupted by the big leagues of the Presidency, for his wife to do something shady which obviously meant she was up to something, for someone in his inner circle to double cross him because that was what I have been trained to watch out for. A few episodes in I realised: that wasn’t going to happen. These people genuinely cared for each other, supported each other, wanted each other to do well. Now there is Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen), a Republican Congresswoman who makes no secret of the fact she would like a shot at the presidency but, so far, she hasn’t done anything overtly malicious. Kirman is such a likeable character and Kiefer Sutherland does a wonderful job of taking us through the initial nervous-terrified stages of someone who has been launched into the most powerful seat in American government, to someone who is slightly more confident but still finding their feet in a new international arena. The fact that I like the protagonists is such a refreshing thing and I would recommend to anyone to watch just for that.
Also there are small things, like the Prime Minister of Britain being an Indian-British Woman were so great in their normalcy. You only get to see her in a few short scenes in one episode but the fact it is dropped in is just a lovely touch of representation.
The plot line is also amazing. There were several twists I audibly gasped at and did the thing where you start speaking to your screen i.e. “Oh no don’t do that” and “Haha, got ya” and “WHAT IS GOING ON?” I’m fairly certain my housemates were particularly worried at the end of one episode by my yelling.
I’m surprised I didn’t hear about this show earlier as it has picked up a few awards, although it’s only just been released onto Netflix and so that may be why my UK ears have only just picked up on it. This is only the first series and I am very happy it has been picked up again for another, although the wait may just finish me off.
Watch the Trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_f1v0Nx5Sw