Pilot Perception: Designated Survivor

Welcome to Pilot Perception, our feature in which we break down the first episode of each new show – here Designated Survivor – in order to help you decide whether it’s worth your time.

The Show: Designated Survivor, ABC in the U.S. and CTV in Canada, Wednesdays at 10/9c

The Pedigree: The show was created and written by David Guggenheim (Safe House), who executive produces with Simon Kinberg (The Martian), Mark Gordon (Criminal Minds), Jon Harmon Feldman (No Ordinary Family), Nick Pepper (Quantico), Suzan Bymel (Touch), Aditya Sood (The Martian), and star Kiefer Sutherland. The pilot was directed by Paul McGuigan (Sherlock).

The Cast & How You Know Them: Designated Survivor stars Kiefer Sutherland (24), along with Natascha McElhone (Californication), Adan Canto (The Following), Italia Ricci (Chasing Life), LaMonica Garrett (The Last Ship), Tanner Buchanan (The Fosters), Kal Penn (House), and Maggie Q (Nikita).

The Premise: After a devastating attack wipes out most of the government, a low-level cabinet secretary becomes president and has to put the country back together.

A Taste:


What Works: As someone who’s into politics (both fictional and nonfictional), this premise totally grabbed me from the start, and I got shivers at “Sir, you are now the President of the United States.” The writing and Sutherland’s portrayal did a great job of immediately making Kirkman into someone I wanted to root for – basically good and competent, but flawed and in over his head. His panic attack as the realities of his situation set in seemed right on. I don’t have as strong feelings about other characters yet – there were a lot of them! – but I’m definitely interested in learning more about Kirkman’s family and the speechwriter played by Kal Penn. This episode made me want to see more of the show immediately, which is the main thing I ask from a pilot.

What Doesn’t: There’s a little too much going on here – I know they have a lot to set up, but some of the Vague But Nefarious Conversations weren’t particularly meaningful yet. And the HUD secretary seemed a bit too unknown (the real one, Julian Castro, was on the short list for Clinton’s VP pick) and people who worked in the government were a bit too surprised by how the whole designated survivor concept works, given that it is a. A real thing and b. The premise of the show. I’m much more interested in the political maneuverings than the investigation into the attack and/or the coup plans. (Are they one and the same? Who knows!)

Our Favorite Line: “Was the chairman of the International House of Pancakes unavailable?”

You Might Like This if you like behind-the-scenes political shows like The West Wing or Madam Secretary, with a heavy dash of 24– or Homeland-like intrigue. There’s a bit of Battlestar Galactica (minus … space) here with the premise, too.

If You’re Interested: Catch the pilot on demand or on the ABC or CTV sites, then set your DVR for Wednesday at 10/9c.

(Photo courtesy of ABC.)

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