Out of the group of new TV shows that premiered last fall, Designated Survivor was one of the best thus earning a renewal. There have been plenty of TV shows about U.S. Presidents but what set this apart was seeing an everyman being thrust into one of the most powerful jobs in the world after the Capitol building is bombed, killing the President and the majority of the U.S. government.
The series lives or dies from the likability of the lead and Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman was great here. Tom’s journey was compelling to watch as Sutherland was excellent at conveying his complex range of emotion as he got put through the ringer. Once he was chosen to be the Designated Survivor, he definitely did not expect to become President. This was very evident early on as he was not ready and felt overwhelmed by the position which was understandable.
As much as he wasn’t ready, those around Washington were not quite ready for him either. He was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and an Independent so he didn’t exactly have the experience needed to become President. Now he had the daunting task of rebuilding the government all while having to prove himself to everyone else every step of the way. This was easier said than done of course as Tom faced many challenges along the way, beit public perception, his own government, or his political rivals Kimble Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen) and Jack Bowman (Mark Deklin), eventually becoming allies with Hookstraten.
Again, it wasn’t easy as Tom was learning on the job but that just made his victories even more satisfying. This was engaging to watch despite getting a little repetitive by the end of the season. Although it appeared that he was able to overcome all of the challenges thrown at him this season, there surely will be more to come and hopefully it won’t be more of the same.
Tom was not alone in getting used to his new position. He also had a family with his wife Alex (Natascha McElhone), his son Leo (Tanner Buchanan), and his daughter Penny (McKenna Grace). There was the standard family drama which became more prevalent after Tom’s failed assassination attempt with the family spending an extended time away from the White House but was ultimately kept to a minimum.
Tom’s story was fun to watch but it couldn’t sustain an entire season. There was still the mystery behind the Capitol bombing to solve. There was still an FBI and the agent in charge of the investigation was Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) along with her superior Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba). Their investigation was exciting to watch and was full of suspenseful twists and turns. What made it exciting was that it wasn’t clear how far-reaching it all was.
First it was thought that terrorists were responsible for the bombing, however it was revealed to be a epic conspiracy reaching the highest levels of government and industry. With that information and the aforementioned assassination attempt on Tom, the investigation shifted towards finding those responsible and bringing them to justice. The problem for them was that the Capitol bombing was only the beginning of their master plan to undermine Tom and eventually take over the White House. Their next attack was ultimately stopped but a cliffhanger ending to the season promised that this conflict was nowhere near over. Hopefully, they can find a way to move on from this and continue with something just as exciting as this obviously cannot last forever.
The acting was good all around with Sutherland being the standout but the chemistry between the cast made it all incredibly fun to watch. The scenes between Sutherland and Madsen as Hookstraten were great to watch (and hopefully Madsen becomes a series regular) as were those between Sutherland and the various members of his administration including his Chief of Staff Aaron Shore (Adan Canto), his advisor Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci), his Press Secretary Seth Wright (Kal Penn), and of his closest Secret Service agents Mike Ritter (LaMonica Garrett). They were also fun to watch together with the season occasionally giving them their own subplots where they could have gone further, however, this was Tom’s story as it should be.
Overall, this was a good first season, led by the great performance of Kiefer Sutherland as Tom Kirkman. He did an excellent job at bringing out the human side of Tom’s journey, making it compelling to watch even though it got a little repetitive by the end. The bombing and then conspiracy investigation was exciting and suspenseful to watch and broke up the Tom moments nicely although they eventually became intertwined. I hope that they can keep their momentum going into season 2 but I’m not sure where they can go without being repetitive.