Two and a half seasons of The White House politics as the first independent, Tom Kirkman (Keifer Sutherland) since George Washington ascends to the office of President. But this is no electoral victory. A devastating bomb during the State of the Union speech wipes out the entire American government – except for low-level Cabinet member, Kirkman, designated survivor of the Democratic government. What evolves over the 21 episodes of an engaging first season is the honourable Kirkman settling into his role.
Made during the Trump years, there’s no question where the issue-based politics of the series lie, even though the main storyline of the first season is identifying the perpetrators of the bombing. With the line of succession across the board wiped out, Kirkman finds himself surrounded by inexperience – with the immediate core of Chief of Staff, Italia Ricci; National Security Advisor, Adan Canto and Press Officer, Kal Penn all moreorless learning on the job. As they look to provide stability alongside Kirkham’s own challenges as a family man thrust into the limelight, it’s maverick FBI agent Maggie Q who leads the charge beyond the obvious Middle East terror suspects.
It’s quite a thrilling ride as the level of conspiracy against the government of the day becomes more and more apparent. But that particular narrative is also Designated Survivor‘s weakness: it’s a hard act to follow. What evolves over the next one and half seasons (it was cancelled by ABC after two seasons, picked up and completed by Netflix) is melodrama at the highest levels of office. Templated storylines see an unelected president and independent face criticism and challenges from Democrats and Republicans alike; run-ins with Russians, Cubans, Koreans and Saudis; healthcare crises; confrontations with powerful and seasoned politicians. But, like its title, Kirkham, an everyman in the role, is the designated survivor. He has the centrist answer, even if, at the end of the day, it’s politics and being a politician that ultimately win the day.
Rating: 64% (first season, 72%)