September 28, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Designated Survivor”



ABC’s DESIGNATED SURVIVOR had what the trades like to call a “troubled” off-season.  Remarkably for a show that’s just aired its twenty-third episode, it’s on its fourth showrunner, with Keith Eisner as its newest version of the drummer from This Is Spinal Tap.  Today, the story broke that leading lady Natascha McElhone, who plays First Lady to Kiefer Sutherland’s Tom Kirkman, will be starring in a Hulu series, although no one seems entirely clear on whether that means she’s taking a break or is gone for good.

For all that tumult, tonight’s Season 2 premiere, written by Eisner and directed by Chris Grismer, was mostly rather dull.  Remember Patrick Lloyd (Terry Serpico), the crazy billionaire who turned out to be behind the plot that blew up the US Capitol and propelled Kirkman into the White House?  He’s still on the loose, and although FBI Agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) spent most of the episode tracking him through Europe, the end of the episode had him back in Washington, prepared to be the season’s Big Bad.  The premiere’s main storyline had Kirkman brilliantly realizing that the seeming hijacking of a Russian plane by Ukrainians was actually staged by the Russians.  And we had a new regular cast member, a supposed political genius named Lyor Boone (Paulo Costanzo) who came into the White House to disrupt everyone’s process and refine the administration’s message (think of him as the new White House showrunner), but who acted exactly like a parody of a character in an Aaron Sorkin show.  He constantly showed up unannounced in other people’s offices to criticize everything they were doing, and when he didn’t like the beverage favored by Chief of Staff Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci), he bought up DC’s entire supply so she couldn’t get it anymore, and resold it on eBay.  Boone was meant to be annoying in a charming way, one supposes, but he was only the former.

Now that the mystery of the Capitol bombing has been solved, the US government is back in full force, and Kirkman has learned the ropes of being president, Designated Survivor has lost its original reason for existence, and so far it hasn’t come up with a replacement.  Although it’s nice to watch a US President be tolerant, gracious, thoughtful and decisive (more science fiction than mere fiction these days), that just leaves a luke-warm political drama, in which Kiefer Sutherland looks half the time like he wishes he could torture someone.

Designated Survivor was a ratings disappointment last season, considering Sutherland’s starring presence, but it did well enough to get renewed, and the competition this fall from Criminal Minds and Chicago PD is only moderately strong, so perhaps it will continue to survive.  All the changes behind the scenes, though, haven’t produced a more vital drama.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."