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Designated Survivor starring Kiefer Sutherland, Natasha McElhone and Maggie Q

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Designated Survivor starring Kiefer Sutherland, Natasha McElhone, Maggie Q and Adan Canto. Image via pinterest.

With Designated Survivor renewed for a second season, and the season finale already having aired, it’s time I reviewed this engaging political drama/thriller starring Kiefer Sutherland. Watch out for a separate post dedicated to the finale.

Premise of Designated Survivor

Secretary of Urban Development and Housing Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) is an idealistic and decent man who doesn’t care about power. He’s happily married to lawyer Alex (Natasha McElhone) with two kids, little Penny (Mckenna Grace, Gifted) and teenager Leo.

But soon after he is “reassigned” from the cabinet, the unthinkable happens. First, he is addressed as the Designated Survivor during the President’s state of union address. Second, Capital Hill is blown up – killing everyone, making Tom the president of the United States.

He agrees to the job in a state of shock. His family is located to the White House, and Tom is left to handle a grieving country, a second designated survivor from the opposing party, two qualified but disagreeing candidates for Chief of Staff, a governor who is ready for a coup, a general who wants to see him gone and many, many more complicated-as-hell problems. Can Tom handle it?

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Thoughts on the show

Designated Survivor has a great premise with a cast to match. Kiefer Sutherland has always been a joy to watch. I’ve been a fan of his acting long before 24 aired, and I remain so to this day. And while 24 got us used to Kiefer saving the president and the country in the field as an agent with unparalleled skills and perseverance, he definitely has the voice, attitude and looks to make one hell of a president, even though he is initially unprepared for the job.

This is my second time watching Adan Canto (who plays Aaron Shore) in a regular and much more likeable role. Sure, he can stab you in the back any moment as he has his own plans for his career, but a politically ambitious and succesful young man is still more likable than a serial killer groupie, like the one he played in The Following.

Maggie Q returns as an FBI agent. Sure, Nikita was not FBI, but she enforced law, justice, or both, one way or the other. However, she makes sure she adds subtle nuances and lets us know Hannah Wells is a different, albeit still impressive, badass character that holds her own. She’s immune to bullshit, and she won’t let public perception betray her gut. She is, however, still a human being, occasionally influenced by her grief and questions her own abilities.

I always rejoice when we have a fictional president who is a loyal and loving family man. We haven’t seen that enough in real life, and we surely haven’t seen it enough on TV.

The show also does a good job with strong female characters. Hannah is one. Natasha McElhone’s Alex is a good lawyer, and a dedicated wife and mother who does her best to make sure her family adapts to this unique situation. She tries her best so that her clients, immigrants or immigrant candidates in difficult situations, aren’t negatively affected by her change in circumstance. She is not drunk by her new status, but she is not afraid to call in favors if it means she will massively help someone in need.

Then we have Emily (Italia Ricci), Tom’s assitant and friend who is totally the opposite of the political warrior Aaron is. She is direct, honest and cares more about doing what’s right than what’s convenient. This of course hinders her career advancement in the White House, but she is not completely without ambition . She is also not shy in reminding Aaron that staff changes happen all the time.

And let’s not forget our antagonist, congresswoman Kimble (Virgina Madsen). She is confident, pretty honest for a politician and ambitious. She wants to be president next term, right after the country will, according to her, have gone to hell under the Kirkman presidency. While she pisses off us of as viewers, she pleases me as a writer. She is strong. She steals scenes. We know she can’t be trusted, but yet, we can’t predict her every move. It also helps that so far she has proven that, while she is not to be trusted, she is not evil.

Who are the villains that blew up the capital? Well, they are way too close to home for us to ever be comfortable…

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Conflicts and Antagonists

Luckily for the audience, Tom’s marriage is the only place where his abilities and whether he is the rightful person to be the president aren’t questioned every second.

Right now, apart from Emily, and of course appearances can be deceptive, everyone seems to be out to get him. Aaron does research and collects dirt behind Tom’s back, the general wants to replace Tom, the governor of Michigan’s practically given the police to do whatever they want to Muslims, other governors are sceptical and we can see the second survivor’s supporting attitude is just initial smoke screen. Oh, and many more problems and crises to come, personal, professional and nationwide.

Obviously, you expect a show set in Washington and around a new, inexperienced president to be full of conflicts, but writers are taking great advantage of a premise, and sort of a metaphorically post-apocalyptic America. Only the congress is in ruins, but anything and everything can go wrong any second. And it does.

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Check out Designated Survivor if:

1) You like quality political dramas
2) You are a fan of the cast, especially Kiefer Sutherland.
3) You are a fan of 24, and want to watch Kiefer take on a role with less action and more conflicts.

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Created by David Guggenheim.

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