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Thursday, September 22, 2016

PILOT REVIEW: Designated Survivor


Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Natascha McElhone, Adan Canto, Italia Ricci, LaMonica Garrett, Tanner Buchanan, with Kal Penn, and Maggie Q

Created by David Guggenheim
Written by David Guggenheim, Directed by Paul McGuigan

One of my favorite moments in The West Wing is when President Bartlett talks to a low level cabinet member about his role as the "designated survivor" during the State of the Union address, educating both him and us. That was the first I had ever heard of such a thing and I thought it was very interesting. I wish I had been the one to think of making it into a TV show but props to David Guggenheim for creating one of the most original new shows of the fall season. Designated Survivor has an incredibly gripping premise: the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) suddenly becomes president when a devastating attack kills the President and the rest of the federal government. The pilot is uneven at times but there are some great performances to go with the great premise, which makes for a promising show.

Kiefer Sutherland is great in this and he's incredibly different than Jack Bauer though there's reasons to believe in this character just as much. It's nice to see Sutherland showing silent resolve and leadership rather than just torturing and killing all the bad guys in his sight. The rest of the large cast was introduced to varying degrees. I really enjoyed Kal Penn as speechwriter Seth Wright and Maggie Q was promising as FBI agent Hannah Wells. I liked Natascha McElhone as Kirkman's wife, Alex but I wasn't sold on the family scenes. I think those could come around eventually but it felt a little unimportant or a little too cliche in a pilot that was dealing with a major catastrophe.

While I continue to have high hopes for this show, I felt like it wasn't quite as strong or as sure of itself of my other favorites this week (Speechless and This is Us). For example, there was a longer than necessary flashback to earlier in the day and ultimately, did much happen in this episode beyond the first couple minutes? I kept waiting for a major plot turn to catapult the pilot forward after its intense and captivating opening but I felt like that never came. Sure, there was uncertainty about the attack and members close to Kirkman trying to undermine him, but those sorts of questions and conspiracies were completely expected. I am not one who needs a major twist at the end of every pilot, but I felt like this one needed it. Or if not a twist, at least something to lure viewers back to week two. This is Us, a relationship drama, was far better at doing so than this, an action packed conspiracy thriller. That just isn't right.

Yet, there are reasons to trust this show and come back. Chief among them is Sutherland. Although Touch was disappointing, he was brilliant in 24 no matter how outlandish the plot was. More than any other new show so far, I am really curious to see what this show looks like in 5 or 10 episodes because I had a hard time envisioning it. Will it settle into a political drama like The West Wing or will it be full of action and conspiracies? It has a fine line to walk and it didn't quite do so in the pilot. But just as many would argue in the show that the nation needs to give Kirkman a chance to lead, I want to give Kiefer Sutherland and this show a chance to grow into something really exciting. The potential is certainly there.

Definitely. But as much out of curiosity about what this show is going to become as anything else.

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