Kiefer Sutherland is back on our screens and boy has primetime TV missed him! Designated Survivor sees him play junior cabinet minister Tom Kirkland who, when the Capitol is taken out in a terrorist attack (and 350 people in line to the Oval Office) is solemnly sworn in as President and it’s so good I’ll go on record to say IT’S WHAT TELEVISION WAS INVENTED FOR… and there’s not a mountain lion in sight.
ABC’s Designated Survivor is frantically paced, the whole set up takes place within the first brilliantly exposition-heavy five minutes. Before we know it, Kirkland is in The White House, paw in the air and Commander in Chief.
Via flashback we learn Hickman was fired earlier in the day, and his family trials and tribulations are exposed; drug-dealing son Leo is also missing in the wake of the attack. An FBI Agent’s (Maggie Q) leaps of faith means she sniffs out this was no ordinary terrorist attack far too quickly, the Iranians are moving their naval fleet and a war-mongering General is invoking nuclear war and plotting treason. Everything from the inciting incident to the whole premise starts off ridiculous meaning (hopefully) it will only get more and more ridiculous.
David Guggenheim’s pilot script knows how OTT it is and, in a purposeful act of complete self-awareness, sets the perfect tone; half republican shoot first, ask questions later and half democrat intelligence and compassion… in other words; 24 meets The West Wing. Gone are Sorkin’s five-minute walk n talks, replaced by 30-second efficiency in which characters have so much exposition to deliver and so little time that they (especially Tom Kirkland’s breathless P.A.) must-deliver-every-line-as-though-they’re-hyphenated-like-every-character-in-Castle.
Like Jamie Foxx’s Stealth or Ice Cube’s Torque, I want to say Designated Survivor is one of those shows that’s so bad it’s good but the thing is… it’s not bad in any way; granted it’s not going to raise any pertinent questions about the fabric of reality or take us closer to enlightenment, but it’s perfectly poised to be the high-octane, audio/visual bubble-gum to see us through the winter until Fox’s 24: Legacy lands in early February.
Though why they’ve given Kiefer Sutherland a prosthetic nose, I don’t know – maybe to make him look like Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon?
Designated Survivor continues Wednesday on ABC at 10/9c