Mr. President You Have 24 Hours To Cast Your Vote Or Be Kicked Off The Island #DesignatedSurvivor #ABC #3weekroundup
All Pictures Courtesy of ABC
Yes, that headline may seem overly long, meandering and pointless, not to mention it refers to three different shows all in one, but those dialed into TV will come to realize just how genius it was and then you’ll be all like, “Oh, Michael, your wit is amazing. How do you do it?” and I’ll shoulder shrug, “It’s what I do.” Or you’ll probably just connect all the dots and shoulder shrug yourself and not even care. That hurts my feelings. It’s time for another 3-week roundup of a new show. Designated Survivor, you’re on deck.
ABC’s new show Designated Survivor stars Kiefer Sutherland (most recently of 24 fame; Huh! Huh! The 24 hours reference in the title. Yeah, you get it. Don’t roll your eyes at me) as one of the lowly cabinet members of the current fictional president. His character, Tom Kirkman, is the current Secretary of Urban Housing and Development, one of those cabinet positions that you’re not really sure exists and sounds like nothing more than a glorified landlord for American cities. That is until one fateful night during the presidential address. In a breathtaking opening scene for the first episode, he looks out of his window from a secluded office area and can see the capitol on fire during the state of the union. The show thrusts us into the chaos immediately (showing us just how amazing and riveting this show could be from jump) before peeling back the clock to show us 15 hours earlier.
Fifteen hours earlier it was business as usual on The Hill. A busy day, the president’s office is preparing for the State of the Union later that night while taking care of other business: lobbying for support for other new government plans, making strategic conflict moves against our foreign terror enemies, etc. One of the last things the President needs to be bothered with is the Housing plan proposed to him by his lowly Urban Housing secretary; in fact, in a meeting with him, the President has a far different plan.
For years, Tom (forgive me if I slip up and call him Kiefer every now and then because that might be easier) and the President have gotten along, even though their agendas seem to run counter. He chose Tom because he was a good guy, but sadly he feels the man doesn’t have a single political bone in his body. He’s not ostensibly cut out for the D.C. atmosphere, not to mention the President sees him almost as dead weight (and you know what we do to dead weight). With that in mind, the President proposes a plan to shift his job. Technically, he is not firing Kiefer, though it can be seen as that to some people. Technically. Instead, he’s shifting his position/pushing him toward a job as an ambassador in Canada somewhere (I think they said Alberta). This way he still gets to maintain a job in government while staying out of the President’s finely coiffed hair.
Naturally, this ambassadorship would require a move to Canada, something which his wife, Alex Kirkman (played by veteran Natascha McElhone) wants no part of. The kids are settled, their oldest son, a teenager, only has a few years more of high school, and their daughter looks like she’s still in elementary, equipped with an early bedtime and fluffy teddy to lull her to sleep. A move is the last thing she wants, especially now that she loves her job (I think she’s an attorney, but the hectic show has only mentioned it twice). They debate about the positives and negatives, and he jokingly but half-not-jokingly says that he’ll commute from Canada to D. C. and back.
And then they get a call. “What’s a designated survivor?”
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OK, admittedly, one of my family members thought that line was stupid because if he’s supposed to be a real cabinet member, then he should know what a designated survivor is, regardless of whether this concept is real or not. And even in my defense of the line—that it is there so they can later explain the concept to the viewer—I totally ignore the fact that they explain this concept at the beginning of the episode, albeit in small type across an image of the the capitol. Still, this is forgivable on behalf of the writers.
So, to answer the question: A designated survivor is one person from the line of presidential succession that is chosen to sit out a big government event in which most of the top ranking officials will attend, in order to assure that if something terrible happens, the government will continue forward. Think about how LBJ took over after JFK was assassinated: succession. Or how Gerald Ford got sworn in after the whole Nixon watergate thing: succession. From what I can remember of government class, I think it goes President, Vice Pres, Speaker of Congress, Speaker of House, Secretary of State, then I’m not sure. But, somehow Kiefer’s character as the Secretary of Urban Housing factors into that. They sequester him away in a conference room just off the capitol where he and his wife can watch the address on TV in safety. And we have returned to that opening scene once more.
Boom goes the dynamite! And dead fall the people. With the State of the Union address normally attended by every congressperson and much of the President’s cabinet, practically everyone dies: Pres, Vice Pres, everyone, save for the designated survivor. And then the games are on. Tom has never really been elected to anything in his life, never even had high political aspirations, yet, now he will be sworn in as the next president of the united states. Not only is the US undergoing the biggest terrorist attack on home soil since 9/11, but they’re swearing in a rookie at the helm. It’s no secret that the sharks that already constantly circle the waters of the swampy Potomac smell blood—and that’s not just from the over 400 dead elected officials in the rubble of the capitol.
With Tom’s first mission after being sworn in to find out who did this and reassure the American people that everything will be fine, his wife’s main goal is to make sure her family is alright and get them situated on a night where the nation is under attack. The secret service quickly gets their little girl from home and brings her to the White House. Their son, however, lied about going to a friend to help with a Youtube video; instead, he is out in a rave/club selling drugs to other underage kids like himself. They figure out where he is, raid the club and grab him just after he hides the drugs on himself. This will become a serious issue, trust me.
Tom—erm... I mean, President Tom is dragged into the White House war room where he is greeted by the previous president’s top trusted general and other analysts as they are trying to figure out what next to do and who attacked them. As he is getting info about potential terrorist plots and credits for the attack, out on the ground we have a secondary plot/characters developing.
Maggie Q plays an FBI agent stationed in D.C. who, at the time of the bombing, was at a bar drinking away her life’s regrets. Upon seeing the explosion on TV she jumps into action even though she isn’t on-call if you can say that. She makes her way down to the rubble of the capitol and helps to dig for bodies and evidence. We meet her boss played by Malik Yoba (of New York Undercover fame) who seems both stern and lenient, but not a conspiracy theorist like his subordinate. She gives him one theory backed by a few measly initial facts/ evidences, and he is set to run with it.
Back in the war room, the general latches on to the FBI assistant director’s theory about the attack coming from one specific group of Islamic extremists. He wants to bomb them into oblivion now, but the new president wants surety of such theories. Regardless, they have another issue mounting. The Iranians have moved a few of their fighter jets into the Gaza strip and are ready to overtake Israel at any time. They see US weakness and have readied their pounce. In his first presidential move, Tom negotiates with the Iranian Ambassador to get him to move those jets back to their own land or else. Real strength, he proves a few people wrong about him already.
Still, some remain unconvinced. One such detractor is Kal Penn’s character. Yeah, Kal Penn is in this. He plays a once-junior speechwriter for the previous president who finds himself confessing his doubt and frustration about the “new rookie” at the helm of the nation to the very man himself in one of those creepy talking in the bathroom stalls moments. Ewww! It’s awkward, and funny, and awkwardly funny, but it also bonds them in a way that will only grow stronger as the show persists. He is tasked with writing the most important speech of Tom Kirkman’s life: a speech to the American people as their new president after the devastating terrorist attack. The first episode ends with that and the discovery of another undetonated bomb in the capitol rubble found by the FBI.
Episode two picks up on Tom’s first full day. With the general he butted heads with now scheming with the previous president’s chief of staff to stage some kind of puppetmaster coup, and bits of the rubble still on fire, President Tom knows that he has to visit said rubble at some point during the day as the body count continues to rise. But first he has to go through a myriad of other governing business, including a briefing with every intel professional and chief of whatever still left. Updates on transportation, the stock market, the banks, who could have bombed them, terrorist interrogation tactics and a brouhaha in Michigan. And while everything else is important and given answers, the episode focuses on the Michigan thing and the group that did this.
In Dearborn, Michigan, devout Muslims are being attacked in the street, some badly beaten, others killed and the unrest has led to the governor running his state as if he were king and it his own sovereign kingdom, instructing the police to use a nationally unacceptable military level of force in and against the Muslim communities. When President Kirkman calls him to tell him to stop, the man plays him like a straight up punk and tells him that he doesn’t have to listen to him because he’s not the elected President. Personally, the moment I saw that, I thought he should’ve called in the national guard, but he took a different approach.
The hate for brown people intensifying through the US, Kal Penn is stopped by the cops a few feet from his home under suspicion. He cooperates, they run his license and he manages to get away without being shot, but it still unnerves him enough to mention it to his boss. As they watch the Michigan mayor impose a curfew on the Dearborn Muslim community, and the man refuses to take the President’s calls, Kiefer meets with a surprise person. As it turns out, just like for the presidency, there is a designated survivor for the congress, too, or rather a designated survivor for the opposing political party. Congresswoman Kimble Hookstraten (played by Virginia Madsen) comes to meet with the new president and commiserate about the loss of the government. Seen from miles away, her intentions really seem to be aimed at the seat of president as not only is she questioning whether he should be president, but much of the nation feels the same. They don’t even know this guy, but he’s suddenly they’re leader? You might feel ticked, too.
The visit to the rubble goes terribly as something that isn’t supposed to be a photo-op turns into a photo-op, which then devolves into a panicky riot ignited by people watching the breaking news about a brutal police beating of a Muslim teen in Dearborn. That, coupled with some fat white guy running through the crowd and digging into his jacket, yanking something free incites the secret service to hop into action and shuffle the President and new First Lady back into the caravan and zip the heck outta there.
The President manages to get the Michigan governor on a video-conference call and tells/threatens him with some political move that gets the man to have his police ease off from the brutality. Unfortunately the kid dies in the hospital, but another battle is won... for now.
Meanwhile, Maggie Q’s investigation into the bomb continues as she visits the experts’ lab. With their newly-gained info, she surmises that the second bomb found in the rubble may have never been meant to explode. In other words, the bombers placed it there so it could be found so it could link back to the desired terrorist group. She concludes that not only is this a possible red herring but maybe the attackers are not yet done.
There’s a little contention on the homefront with Alex arguing with her and the President’s son about him not being responsible enough to look after his sister, but she doesn’t find the drugs until episode three.
Episode three starts to show the struggle between President Kirkman keeping his family happy and the pressures of the job. As the nation prepares to mourn the passing of their previous president, President Tom prepares to give a eulogy at the man’s private funeral (one that is televised). With Kal Penn on the job of writing the perfect speech for him, the President must also make another big call that will define his term: he has yet to make a determination of who will be his chief of staff. Between the old president’s COS (played by Adan Canto) and his personal lead staffer for all his years in the public sector (played by Italia Ricci) he has gotten two varying opinions on everything, but from two very informed people. Both eagerly await his choice, something he has not a mind to think about until after the funeral.
Meanwhile, the biggest news outside of the old president being mourned is that a survivor is found in the rubble. Hell yeah, it’s suspicious! Of course, he could truly have just been the luckiest man in the room. On it, Maggie Q doesn’t believe in his Leprechaun blessing and asks to review the TV recordings of what happened. In those recordings she sees another woman in the visitor rafters with a cameraphone snapping pictures of the political theater in action. Two pictures and an off-time timecode is all it takes for her to realize that something wicked happened in the minute of blacked-out TV where the survivor man wasn’t in his seat.
If that’s not bad enough, the group that the general swore was behind the attack finally lays claim to it in the most dubious of ways. Somehow, they hack into the White House’s personal, secured computer network, take a digitial looky-loo, and leave the video for the staff to find. Between that and the deceased president’s son not wanting the “new guy” to speak at his funeral, favoring instead the other congresswoman designated survivor, President Tom has more on his plate than a Roman aristocrat fresh from the vomitorium. The funeral eulogy rejection comes on the heels of a sit-down interview with Elizabeth Vargas in which she hardballs him with a question about if the president fired him on the day of the attack. In a D.C. twist unseen since Honest Abe, he told the truth and said that he had been ungraciously offered (read: forced) into a possible new position as an ambassador to Canada—more fuel to the fire for people already jockeying to get him out of office.
The funeral goes well and the congresswoman is seen as a strong leader but, in an underhanded but conning trick, the president’s old COS releases the video of the terrorist group taking responsibility, undermining President Tom’s leadership, yet earning the position of Chief of Staff. When breaking the news to his old loyal girl in Ricci, he tells her that he needs someone who is going to think differently than him but wants to keep her on as a special adviser to him. The tape distracted people from thinking about Tom not being worthy to be president.
The show ends when, on the homefront, his wife finds the MDMA (Molly) that their son was selling and is about to tell him but he can’t make it home in time for dinner that night. Still, everyone stays up to see him come in and have a little family time. Yes, that was a lot and yes, this show is intense.
What’s my grade? I give it a B+ with strong consideration for A-. We are getting up there in good TV, folks. Granted, this is no Game of Thrones, but for broadcast TV this is really quite good. The show moves fast, has a very hectic political feel to it, is political without being overly political if that makes sense, and is smartly written as it juggles a lot of swords but never catches hand on blade. I think the most interesting part of it all, however, is that even though it is for the sophisticated viewer like those who enjoy Game of Thrones, Fargo, People vs. OJ Simpson, Scandal, it is also very much a family show. It has yet to drench itself in overly-sexualized plots (though, I’m sure they may have something down the pipeline for Ricci and Cando’s characters) and has briefly touched on the subject of infidelity with Maggie Q’s character making the revelation that she was so invested in the bombing because she was having an affair with one of the senators now confirmed dead. Is there danger, blood, violence? Yes, however nothing worse than what one might see on other broadcast TV series. I would say someone ten-years-old and up could watch this, no problem. And, like I said in my preview look at this fall’s new shows, I will give my recommendation of a night switch for this. I actually think that if this show survives, it can go well on ABC Sunday nights in the 9pm timeslot. Granted, it has no real humor in it, which has been a downfall of ABC Sundays ever since Desperate Housewives left and then Brothers and Sisters just went on a forever hiatus, but it fits well as a transitioning show between Once Upon A Time and Quantico. Yes, Secrets and Lies is currently doing fine there, but I think that this would work better as a full season mainstay as it is perfectly suited mentally for a slow Sunday night.
Should you be watching? Yes. I can’t stress this enough, set your expectations people. I hate TV snobs who say they will only watch shows rated 9.0 or higher or who expect Shakespeare from every series. What? It’s just entertainment, people. If you like a good political thriller that gets down to business (similar to West Wing), then you’ll probably enjoy this. Intense action, mystery, family drama, people trying to undercut each other—it’s got everything, minus the gratuitous sex found in Game of Thrones, How To Get Away With Murder and Scandal. Designated Survivor currently airs on Wednesdays at 10pm on ABC.
What do you think? Have you seen Designated Survivor? If not, do you think you’ll check it out now? If you have, what did you like about it? How do you think their son’s drug dealing will factor into future episodes? And what is behind the guy who mysteriously disappeared from his seat during the bombing? Let me know in the comments below (hint: click the no comments button if you see no comments).
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If you’re looking for a scare, check the YA novel #AFuriousWind, the NA novel #DARKER, #BrandNewHome or the bizarre horror #ThePowerOfTen. For those interested in something a little more dramatic and adult, check out #TheWriter. Both season 1 and season 2 are out NOW, exclusively on Amazon. Stay connected here for updates on season 3 coming summer 2017. If you like fast action/crime check out #ADangerousLow. The sequel A New Low will be out in a few months. Look for the mysterious Sci-fi episodic novella series Extraordinary to premiere sometime this winter on Amazon and my blog. Join us on Goodreads to talk about books and TV, and subscribe to and follow my blog with that Google+ button to the right.
Until next time, “Wait, so you’re saying that it’s Gen Xers vs. Millennials? Huh. That’s interesting.”
P.S. Get it now? The title? It’s funny because not only did Kiefer star in 24, not only is his new show called Designated Survivor, not only did he not get voted into office on the show, not only does it remind you all to go vote (or not) in this upcoming presidential and overall election, but the show airs on the same night that CBS airs their newest season of Survivor. Yeah! Wow, I guess it really wasn’t that brilliant. Eh, well... I’ll think of a better sign-off next time, and hopefully a better title.
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