So I thought I’d make a post about this Netflix series, since I’ve been binging it from time to time over the past 2 weeks. Designated Survivor is a three season (or 53 episodes) long TV series created by David Guggenheim. The show follows Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland), a former academic who is the secretary for housing and urban development. After a catastrophic attack on the White House during the president’s state of the union address, Tom Kirkman is summoned as the president of the United States because he was assigned as the ‘designated survivor’ and all those above him in the line of succession to the presidency have been killed. The first season of this show predominantly focuses on how Kirkman is able to fulfill his duties as president, while figuring out who was responsible for the attack.
Starting off with the positives, I felt that this show covered a lot of ground in its first season. There are episodes covering how the president deals with Islamophobia following the attack, issues of domestic terrorism, appointment of a vice president, bio-terrorism, among others. In a way, Designated Survivor is a hybrid of two shows; House of Cards and 24. It is similar to House of Cards in that it is political, discusses much of the same topics as that show does, and is centered around a male lead who assumes the role of presidency. Of course (SPOILER ALERT) Kirkman isn’t as power hungry or corrupted as Underwood, but regardless the two shows are shot in much of the same way (they probably used the same sets and props).
Kirkman (left) vs. Underwood (right). Who is the better president?
Designated Survivor is also similiar to 24 in that it has its moments of action and thrill. This is largely executed by the character of Hannah Wells (Maggie Q), who plays an FBI agent that tracks those responsible for the attack. Maggies’ character has a genuine motivation for joining the investigation on the attack, and totally kicks ass as an FBI agent. Her characters’ journey was like a roller coaster ride; it had its ups and downs. Other characters in this show include Seth Wright (Kal Penn), the white house press secretary, Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci); Kirkman’s right hand woman and personal assistant AND Aaron Shore (Adan Canto); the newly appointed chief of staff. All three characters have interesting arcs and undergo development over the course of this season.
Aaron Shore (top left), Emily Rhodes (top right), Seth Wright (bottom)
Other highs include the excellent cliffhangers at the end of each episode and the general unpredictability of the show. Netflix is consistently brilliant at executing these two elements in almost all of its shows, making them extremely binge-worthy. As viewers, we also get an inside peak into how different staff in the White House work together as a unit; from the secretaries, to security, to policy advisors, to the press team, to the president himself etc. Everybody had a moment in the spotlight, which reflected that running a country requires the co-operation of many agents of change; not just a single individual. The show also did a brilliant job to illustrate just how stressful the job of a president is, particularly with regards to making impulse and life/death decisions, while managing the interests of different parties.
On the negative side, there were 22 episodes in this season; 10 far too many. I would’ve preferred if Netflix had chosen to keep the traditional 10-13 episode per season format. This would’ve prevented the show from being too repetitive. For instance, I got quite irritated by the fact that the characters resorted to delivering the same lines over and over again in an effort to pass time and keep each episode 45 minutes long. Common, overused phrases included: “Please sit down”, “I’ve got some bad news”, and my personal least favorite “How much sleep did you get last night?”.
Other consequences of the repetitive nature of this show included stagnancy; in certain episodes we see president Kirkman being hauled from one room to another, talking to different people, and literally nothing else. This lowered the production value of this show. There were also some instances of bad CGI (particularly how they showed Air Force One) and some clear indications that the show was not actually being shot in DC. I’ve lived in Toronto for five years and I could clearly make out that the show was shot there. From the Canada Post trucks, to the iconic skyscrapers of Toronto, to street signs that could only be found in Canada, there was a lackluster effort from the production team to make it seem that the show was shot in Washington DC.
The CGI version of Air Force One in this show was shockingly bad
To sum up, despite the negative aspects of this show, season 1 of Designated Survivor had much going for it; characters with interesting backstories, excellent cliffhangers, sharp dialogue, and genuinely interesting story points. I am looking forward to seeing what season 2 has to offer!