As Netflix’s most surprising win returns with a new season, Max Langer explores what makes Designated Survivor so entertaining to watch.
Designated Survivor follows Tom Kirkman, a lowly cabinet secretary who suddenly becomes the president of the US when the Capital is blown up. In the first season, we discover more about the conspiracy behind the attack, while watching Kirkman adapt to his new role. At the end of the season, we are left with the attack’s perpetrator, Patrick Lloyd, on the run with massive amounts of confidential information.
Things pick up in the season premier with Kirkman’s administration floundering and his staff looking for an exit. Lloyd is getting chased around the world by FBI agent Hannah Wells. All in all, the season premier seems exactly like all that came before it: a near-constant state of chaos.
During the premier we see Kirkman handle a plane hijacking which has a long-estranged friend of his onboard. Meanwhile, Wells teams up with an MI6 agent to track down Lloyd in Amsterdam, but as always Lloyd is one step ahead, popping up in Washington D.C. as the final cliff-hanger.
Let me be clear. Designated Survivor is not a ‘good’ show. It is formulaic, unoriginal and often muddled in its storytelling. That being said, it is still one of the most entertaining shows around at the moment. There’s something that makes the show intensely watchable.
There’s something that makes the show intensely watchable.
Designated Survivor moves along at an unrelenting pace. The perspective is constantly switching between the FBI investigation in to the bombing and the running of a very dysfunctional White House. This prevents the show from ever getting boring, but can also make it feel disjointed and chaotic. What holds this mess of ideas together most effectively, however, is Sutherland’s performance.
Many people associate Sutherland with his tenure as Jack Bauer on 24, but here he is almost unrecognisable. He plays Kirkman as quiet and principled, as opposed to the bombastic physicality of Bauer. His movements are soft and his voice muted, but at the same time he dominates every scene he’s in.
However, the show never really tests its audience. When you compare Designated Survivor to The West Wing the difference is obvious. The West Wing moves forward in bouts of Aaron Sorkin dialogue, where the story is being told in the subtext of what the characters are actually saying. Meanwhile, Designated Survivor relies far too heavily on exposition in order to advance the plot, making the whole experience feel weighed down by the dialogue.
What holds this mess of ideas together most effectively, however, is Sutherland’s performance.
But, no matter what’s said against it, Designated Survivor is a blast to watch. 23 episodes on from the pilot, the show is as entertaining as ever. In a TV landscape so littered with serious dramas and gritty retellings, there’s something refreshing about being able to turn on a ridiculous show and just enjoy it.
New episodes of Designated Survivor are available on Netflix every Thursday.
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