The time has come again. The summer sun has set. The days grow colder and the nights grow longer and we fill those nights with new fall TV. As happens every autumn, the five major networks have unleashed a flurry of new programs to entertain us into these dark, frigid winter months and beyond. So many choices. So much risk! How will you know what to watch? That’s where I come in. I watch every new fall pilot episode so that you don’t have to. I take one for the team, so you can watch the… screen(m). It’s time for…
THE PILOT PROJECT (2016 Edition)
Designated Survivor (Wednesdays on ABC)
During the State of the Union, one cabinet member is taken to an undisclosed location.
In the event of a catastrophic attack on our government, that cabinet member becomes our new President.
They are known as the Designated Survivor.
The concept – as illustrated by the text above, presented at the start of the episode – is a simple one: what happens when the executive branch of the United States government is effectively wiped out, leaving an unqualified individual as the highest in the line of succession? It’s an incredibly intriguing idea and I’m kind of shocked that nobody has used it before now. I mean, read the blurb above and tell me that’s not a great concept for a story. Luckily, that story has arrived.
More notable than the concept, however, is Kiefer Sutherland’s return to television. If you’re reading this, you already know that Sutherland became one of TV’s most beloved actors over the course of 24’s 10 (and counting) seasons. 24 was a true television phenomenon, the very definition of appointment viewing. It started to lag a bit in later seasons, but there’s no denying that show’s strengths, and number one among them was Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. Can Tom Kirkman, the titular designated survivor, live up to that legacy? It’s way too early to tell, but I think we’re off to a good start.
Let’s make this clear: Tom Kirkman is no Jack Bauer. He’s the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and a devoted family man. He’s timid, unsure of himself, and a bit of a follower. That’s not a bad thing. In 24, we saw a badass, who was always a badass, continue to be more of a badass. It was fun to watch, but there wasn’t a whole lot of room for that character to grow. Designated Survivor gives us in Tom Kirkman someone who we can watch grow and become a confident, badass leader, and we see shades of that in the pilot, specifically when Kirkman is meeting with the Iranian ambassador. He may not be leadership material yet, but he shows a hidden strength, an unwillingness to compromise. It’s going to be fun watching Kirkman slowly convince his staff, and the world, that he is up to the job. Assuming that he is (although I don’t really know how the show would work without a, you know, designated survivor).
Now, for those of you who were hoping for more 24 and less Madam Secretary, there are a few things here to give you hope, including a side-story concerning the attack itself and the parties behind it, led by Maggie Q’s FBI Agent Hannah Wells. There’s also a potential coup by a U.S. Army General. Oh, and there’s Tom Kirkman’s dumbass son, who you just know is going to get up to some Kim Bauer trouble. Unfortunately, it’s much too early to know how all of this stuff dovetails with the core plotline, but I’m optimistic. As soon as the pilot ended, I immediately wanted to start the next episode. If that’s not the sign of a good TV show, then I don’t know what is.
Welcome back to TV Kiefer Sutherland. We missed you.