Kiefer Sutherland’s new POTUS drama is smart, slick and absolutely gripping.
There are lots of POTUSes on television right now, but none of them are like Tom Kirkman. The Urban Development Secretary, played by Kiefer Sutherland, is Washington’s everyman; thrust into the most important job in the world (literally) overnight when catastrophe strikes. We’ve never seen such an inexperienced President, and- unless Trump wins on Nov. 8- hopefully we’ll never have to.
I went into Designated Survivor (pardon the difficult, desperate title) wanting and expecting to love it. I did. It’s got everything I need from TV: high-stakes politics, family drama, workplace tension, Kiefer Sutherland yelling.
The 40-minute pilot, directed by Paul McGuigan, is one of the most gripping first episodes of a show I’ve seen in years. Within minutes, we jump from Kirkman’s ordinary day to “The Most Destructive Terrorist Attack Since 9/11”. The pacing could’ve been unpalatable, but it’s phenomenally effective.
Sutherland, a man born to star in really good network TV shows, is the perfect hybrid of charming dad and strong hero- this show couldn’t have worked without him. It’s also fascinating to see him upgrade from an on-the-ground American Hero in 24 to a more high-up saviour of the nation. Kiefer’s just terrific. I can’t get enough of him. What a guy.
The supporting cast are also introduced really well. Kal Penn (a real-life Obama administration staffer) shows up as Kirkman’s chief speechwriter, and is a delight. Natascha McElhone is a pleasant surprise as the new First Lady, and Kevin R. McNally a bullish army general.
A subplot in which Maggie Q attempts to solve the initial terrorist attack (killing everyone in the government par Kirkman during the State of the Union address) didn’t quite grab my attention like the primary story, but there’s room for improvement in future episodes.
The first half of this pilot is utterly captivating; the remainder is smart and very topical (if this was shot last year, why does Kirkman say “Thank you, Madam Prime Minister” over the phone?). House of Cards doesn’t return for several months; Designated Survivor will do very nicely as our weekly dose of slick White House drama.