Last night saw the debut of the new ABC series Designated Survivor. This is one of those series that every writer has thought about doing after watching the State of the Union address and the news points out who the Designated Survivor is for the night. That person in the Presidential cabinet that doesn't go to the speech so that if something catastrophic happens, they're the new president. It's a scary and morbid idea that such a designation is necessary. But it's also a scenario that could create a great amount of drama if it ever comes into play.
In this case, the survivor is Tom Kirkman played by the great Kiefer Sutherland. This is interesting casting after his last major role as Jack Bauer. Unlike most television shows that has to show us who a character is, the writers seem to focus on showing us what Kirkman isn't, and in this case it's to show us that he's not Bauer. He doesn't have the confidence to handle anything, he doesn't have that steely look that makes terrorists soil themselves… he doesn't even have a presidential voice. They spend almost the entire first episode showing us that Kirkman is the last person you want to be the President in a time of crisis… and then in one short scene with a foreign ambassador, he becomes Bauer and threatens war.
But this isn't just about the new president, but what happened to the old one and the rest of the government. It's basically West Wing meets Quantico with Maggie Q bringing up the investigation side. I expect the two stories will parallel for a while before the characters ever meet directly.
The rest of the cast is good with Natascha McElhone as the new first lady, Kal Penn as the first one to tell him he should resign, and Adan Canto, LaMonica Garrett and Italia Ricci as people it looks like he can trust.
The big negative for me is it's a bit of a "kitchen sink" plot. They threw in a bunch of extra dramatic setups to pay off later, but they seem completely unnecessary with the scenario here. A man who served as secretary of housing and development and has never ran for office is now the most powerful man in the world meanwhile an investigation into the biggest act of terrorism on U.S. soil since 9/11 goes on… do we really need a troubled teenaged son or someone conspiring against Kirkman? Down the line those could be nice editions to the story, but I think the pilot could've been a bit more streamlined and focused on the overwhelming effect of what happened.
Bottom line, it's a great premise with a strong actor and a good time slot. The show should be a hit as long as it doesn't get too convoluted that no one cares.