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Have you ever though what would happen if all of the high Government officials in the US were killed at once? Who’d assume the office of president? Well, Americans have thought of everything and their solution to such a catastrophic situation is a ‘designated survivor’. An award-winning political action fantasy TV series assumes the term as its title, Designated Survivor, and introduces Golden Globe-winner and action-drama virtuoso Kiefer Sutherland as the main protagonist Tom Kirkman. The show was created and directed by David Guggenheim; it premiered on September 21st, 2016 on ABC and is now available on Netflix as one of Netflix Originals outside of North America.
Before we go any further into the events depicted in the series, we feel the need to explain the term ‘designated survivor’ with more detail. The practice of naming a designated survivor (or designated successor) originated during the Cold War due to the risk of nuclear attack; this person is kept at a secure and undisclosed location during time when the President, the Vice President, and other officials in the line of succession are all located at a single venue (State of the Union addresses, presidential inaugurations etc.). A designated survivor exists to guarantee continuity of government in the event of a catastrophic occurrence that kills them all, like a mass shooting, bombing or natural disaster. Strangely enough, the designated survivor isn’t told what to do in the event of other successors to the presidency getting killed. Now we have a basis for great television.
Kiefer Sutherland assumes the role of Tom Kirkman, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and therefore a low-level cabinet member who experiences becoming the first in line of presidential succession after an explosion destroys the United States Capitol building and claims the lives of the President and everyone else above him. Named the designated survivor, Kirkman is immediately sworn in as President and starts to deal with the aftermath of the dreadful attack, unaware of what alarming events are yet to come.
Known best for his performance as Jack Bauer in the action/crime/drama 24 where he played a field operative and down-to-earth hero racing against the clock, Kiefer Sutherland is now skilfully delivering the drama from a more prestigious position. As he finds himself suddenly appointed president after America’s worst nightmare, Sutherland’s character Tom Kirkman enters the Oval Office and takes power in a time of national crisis. The show offers a superficial backstory for Kirkman as a family man with a dull life, but it’s left for the viewer to entertain the possibility of him being a man with a harrowing past thanks to Sutherland’s charming leading man performance. Tom Kirkman is surrounded by Alexandra Kirkman, his devoted wife played by Natascha McElhone, Congresswoman Kimble Hookstraten (Virginia Madsen), Congressman Peter MacLeish (Ashley Zukerman) as the new Vice President and his actions intertwine with the attempts of FBI agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) and Deputy Director Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba) to uncover what caused the horrific attack. Was it an inside job?
Thomas Kirkman is tasked with holding the nation together after the entire nation has endured seeing troubling images of the Capitol sending fire into the Washington sky. At the same time FBI agent Hannah Wells works the political-thriller angle trying to get to the bottom of the terrorist attack, which goes unclaimed by well-known organisations such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda. The show balances day-to-day concerns and paranoid conspiracies, resulting in gripping political make-believe viewers and critics have welcomed with good ratings and reviews. Since it was so well received, the show was renewed for a second season.
If you can digest the idea of a fictional president, seen so many times before in Hollywood movies, Designated Survivor will take you in a different direction; the suspenseful pilot gets your adrenaline pumping and the chilling overall premise makes the show riveting at the least. Witness the FBI's investigation into the Capitol bombing, Kirkman learning who was behind the attack, him negotiating a hostage exchange and dealing with classified government documents being leaked online as well as a plethora of other intriguing events across two seasons of one-hour long episodes.