‘Designated Survivor’ Review: Kiefer Sutherland Is Your New POTUS

     July 24, 2016

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ABC’s new show Designated Survivor tells the story of a low-rung member of the President’s Cabinet who is thrust into the role of President when an extreme terrorist attack decimates the majority of Washington D.C.’s power players during the State of the Union. Kiefer Sutherland stars as Tom Kirkman, the Designated Survivor and new POTUS, who has to adjust to his new role and responsibilities rapidly. The cast also includes Natasha McElhone, Kal Penn, Maggie Q, Adan Canto, Italia Ricci, and LaMonica Garrett.

I was able to see the pilot of the show while at Comic-Con, and the audience reaction matched the earlier hype the show has been receiving. I would say it’s a pretty solid pilot with a lot of moving parts at play. Sutherland and Q seem to enjoy playing the lighter moments that their characters have after years of dealing with heavier fare, and the entire cast itself is very stacked. Not sure if they can keep up the action and the story to match the scope of the cast, but I’m intrigued to see how they continue to interplay the personal and political storylines for Sutherland’s character.


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Image via ABC

After the screening, Entertainment Weekly’s Henry Goldblatt spoke with Penn, Q, and executive producer Simon Kinberg about the show. Penn is playing Seth, the new head speech writer and soon to be Press Secretary for the President, and Q is playing Hannah, an FBI counterterrorism agent who is working to discover the cause of the attack. They discussed their own interests in the political world, what they would do if they became President, and what to expect as Season 1 unfolds.

  • Penn’s background working with the White House obviously influences his knowledge of D.C.’s politicos, and the show is benefiting from that. Penn said he is also serving as a consultant for the show, but that the writers have done a lot of their own research to keep it realistic.
  • Q is also very interested in the political, having decided in part to join the show for that reason. She also couldn’t turn down working with the cast, saying that “this show is like actor porn.” Penn and she even discovered while traveling from Toronto together that they subscribe to the same foreign affairs magazine.
  • Kinberg diverted his attention away from his blockbuster movies for this show because he has always been a big fan of political thrillers. David Guggenheim, the show’s writer, sent him the idea as a feature, but Kinberg thought it might work better as a TV show and helped him shepherd that through to the networks.
  • The show will focus on three primary storylines as the season goes forward: the personal life of Sutherland and his family as they become the First Family, the thriller aspect of Q and her team investigating the terror attack, and the political arena that Sutherland is stepping into.
  • Favorite moments from the pilot: Q really enjoyed the relationship between Sutherland and McElhone’s characters, and Penn thought the humanizing aspect of Sutherland’s character (like a touching phone call with his young daughter) were nice to see.
  • When asked what they would all do if they suddenly became President, Penn joked with an audience member about fighting to legalize marijuana, but in the end all three agreed they would push for better education funding.
  • Kinberg said that Q’s character is going to have the most surprising storyline coming up at the season progresses. Q added that her character is going to have more emotional and complicated depth added in as they explore the aftermath of the attack.
  • As Season 1 continues on, Kinberg is hoping to have the show explore topics that correlate directly to events going on in the real world. He said that he’s hoping the show can provide new insight and commentary on similar events like The West Wing did while that show was on air.
  • They were asked to describe the second episode of Designated Survivor in a few words: Kinberg said surprising, thrilling, and emotional; Q said it’s a game changer; and Penn said it’s going to be bad ass, shocking, and patriotic.

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