I absolutely love political dramas. The West Wing, Scandal, House of Cards, I’ve watched every episodes. Even funny political shows like Veep, Alpha House, or even the old school Spin City I really enjoy. So I was really excited when I saw the previews for ABC’s Designated Survivor about a Housing and Urban Development Secretary who becomes the President after an attack on the Capitol Building during the State of the Union.
It is a really exciting premise that leads to some really fun thought experiments for political nerds like me thinking about what would actually happen during a similar catastrophic situation. Kiefer Sutherland is a great actor who played some amazing characters, from Jack Bauer in 24, Athos in The Three Musketeers, to Snake in the new Metal Gear video game. Given those ingredients I was pretty excited to watch this show, thinking it could fill the void in my heart until the new season of House of Cards comes up, but I was very disappointed.
I’ll try not to be too spoiler-y here, but just in case here is your SPOILER WARNING.
The show is absolutely awful, but for some reason I keep hate watching it week after week.
Kiefer Sutherland’s Tom Kirkman is the idealistic Independent who was just trying to do his part at Housing and Urban Development before tragedy swept him into the Presidency. As our idealistic protagonist you can alway count on Kirkman to eventually “do the right thing” which makes the show unbearably predictable. While it plays around with Kirkman feeling unprepared for the Presidency eventually at some point in the episode he has a spectacular moment of leadership, because if you just get a good hearted intelligent guy in the oval office everything is going to be just fine (sarcasm by the way).
In the face of a constitutional crisis all the other politicians on the show are remarkably petty for some reason, challenging the legitimacy of President Kirkman, but eventually rolling over when he eventually impresses them with a fancy speech (or has the arrested). All of the character, including President Kirkman just seem very static as opposed to growing overtime because of the experience undergone with this dramatic situation.
The show can’t seem to strike the right balance between focusing on the politics of the show and the drama in Kirkman’s family life. It is like an awkward middle ground between Full House or House of Cards. You never know if a scene is going to contain a big family hug or a political backstab. President Kirkman’s wife Alex is present at high level meetings that no first lady would ever have a place being at. On occasion it will awkwardly drop something about Kirkman’s children into the episode for some reason.
Essentially I feel like this show was one that had a great premise that just wasn’t effectively executed on. The characters are static, the events are awkwardly unrealistic, and the writing is predictable. I could have told you how the mid season finale was going to end about halfway through the episode. The most realistic thing about this show is Kal Penn being in the White House.
Also Tom Kirkman always wears sweaters around the White House and it is incredibly un-Presidential.