‘Designated Survivor’ is an applaud-worthy show of moderate dramatization and gusto


Taking on a scenario that has never occurred in U.S. history, Designated Survivor presents viewers of a possible array of events that could happen in the case of a total governmental reform (Image is free use from pixabay.com).

Designated Survivor, which ran from 2016-2019 and starred Kiefer Sutherland, is a well-done mix of action, politics, and humor, as an almost inconceivable scenario becomes the reality for the U.S. government. Even though it’s a few years old, it continues to be worth a binge as summer vacation is just around the corner.

Every year during the State of the Union, the President, the Vice President, the Cabinet, Congress, the Supreme Court justices, and honored guests sit together in the Capitol building. With the whole of the U.S. government, security is a priority. But there is one caveat: one member of the Cabinet is selected as the “designated survivor,” and is taken to an undisclosed location during the President’s speech.

In case of a massive emergency wherein the entire government is killed, the one member of the Cabinet will survive, and it falls to that person to recreate the government and serve as the President until the next election, when he or she may choose whether to run for another term.

Luckily, nothing like that has ever happened in U.S. history. But Designated Survivor is a realistic take on what could happen, should the Capitol be blown up during the State of the Union. 

Tom Kirkland, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is sitting with his wife at a table, nonchalantly watching the State of the Union address, and wearing a gray hoodie. Then all hell breaks loose. In the course of a few minutes, he is evacuated, driven to the White House, and sworn in as President. Everyone, including the President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, the Senate Pro Tempore, and members of the Cabinet have been killed.

Over the course of the series, a team of FBI agents, led by Agent Hannah Wells, look into the attack on the Capitol, assassination threats, and further security issues.

The thought that went into Designated Survivor was well-done. They made Kirkman an Independent, so that few would turn off the TV, simply based on political leanings. The writers and creators did throw politics into the mix, however, creating a quasi-West Wing feel, but they specifically made sure that the show did not revolve around politics. Instead, there was action and suspense, often leading to gun fights. Family drama and relationship questions kept me intrigued with the characters. And at the end of every episode, a cliff-hanger left me wanting to continue watching.

That is not to say that Designated Survivor is perfect. No show is. The plot is good, the character evolution is spot-on, and the sets create a real White House feel. But Kirkman’s relationships with his children have ruffled my feathers since the pilot. His daughter, Penny, nicknamed Little P, is treated like a queen, while his older son, Leo, is talked to with almost harsh tones, and never seems to be under a warm and loving parental embrace. Though a minor part of the show, the scenes with Penny and Leo can be painful to watch.

In addition, the character Mike Ritter, played by LaMonica Garrett, is strange, to say the least. At times, it seems that he is a Secret Service Agent. Other times, he acts as though he is part of the National Security team, and every now and then, he seems to serve as the President’s personal aide. In reality, no one can hold more than one of those jobs at a time. Obviously, this show is not reality, but it feels to me as though Garrett’s character is stretched too thinly.

Despite those flaws, the talent on this show is great. Sutherland has been in tons of movies and shows, including Touch, Live Another Day, Forsaken, and Redemption. Sutherland’s co-star, Kal Penn, worked in the real Obama White House, and serves the fictional President Kirland as speechwriter and press secretary. The supporting acting does a good job of not feeling forced, and their stories contribute nicely to the plot of the show.

With just three seasons, Designated Survivor left off on a momentous note, before being cancelled by Netflix, much to the dismay of fans. The episode that turned out to be the last one leaves much on the table for the nonexistent future. 

Designated Survivor tackles an American nightmare with gusto, and doesn’t overdramatize it. If not for a few minor mistakes here and there, and the public’s general fatigue with politics, it would be considered an elite show, worthy of the most immense recognition.