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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

TV Rewind | Designated Survivor: New, but not improved Jack Bauer

Designated Survivor follows Thomas Kirkman, played by Kiefer Sutherland, who happens to become the President of the United States after an explosion at the Capitol kills everyone who is in the line of Presidential succession.

Written by Sampada Sharma | New Delhi |
Updated: March 27, 2021 8:43:34 pm
designated survivorDesignated Survivor had Kiefer Sutherland playing the President of the United States.

In the early 2000s, the introduction of Jack Bauer in 24 as the agent who could do-it-all changed the game for action-dramas on television. The thrill of watching every minute unfold as it happened in real-time gave the viewers a rush and in many years since, there hasn’t been a show that has been able to match the urgency that 24 captured in every single episode. Of course, there has been talk for a few spin-offs but we all know that revisiting an old classic is never a good idea.

So when the trailer for Designated Survivor dropped, it felt like an extension of the same world of 24 but this looked more polished and this time, Jack Bauer wouldn’t be in the trenches but, running the free world.

Starring Kiefer Sutherland in the lead role with Natascha McElhone, Adan Canto, Kal Penn, Italia Ricci and Maggie Q in significant roles, Designated Survivor had a short run of three seasons from 2016-2019.

What is Designated Survivor all about?

Designated Survivor follows Thomas Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) who happens to become the President of the United States after an explosion at the Capitol kills everyone who is in the line of Presidential succession. Kirkman now has to solve the case of the explosion at the Capitol while also being the head of the country and dealing with issues that he is absolutely not prepared for.

The three seasons of Designated Survivor follow Kirkman’s administration as he deals with terrorists, public outcry and the many moral conundrums where he has to choose between performing his duty vs choosing the right path.

designated survivor tv show Designated Survivor started off really strong in its first season. (Photo: ABC)

Jack Bauer 2.0, and now he is POTUS

As soon as the first promo of Designated Survivor dropped, it reminded us of those Jack Bauer days when Sutherland saved the world multiple time in a span of just a day. In the initial seasons of 24, Sutherland’s Jack was the President’s confidante who sometimes disobeyed direct orders from him, just because he knew better. And while it would have been interesting to see his character eventually become the President in that universe, the dream was ultimately realised in 2016 with Designated Survivor.

As a character, Kirkman was a meek man who is burdened with responsibility after the blast. His family-man persona makes him a likeable character, but his saccharine-like nature makes him a little too overbearing, especially as the most powerful man in the world.

Designated Survivor – the pros and cons

Designated Survivor started strong right from the start. The first season dealt with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks and with supporting characters like Alex, Aaron Shore, Emily Rhodes, Mike Ritter, Hannah Wells and Seth Wright, we got an interesting bunch of characters whose independent storylines were interesting enough for us to care about them. Since all these characters are thrown into the deep end after the explosion, the audience sees them start their journey when they are just as clueless as us. The two narratives – White House and Hannah’s investigation are strong enough to carry the plotline, which is a little too predictable at times.

The second season is complete deja vu if you have watched 24 as the plot follows a probable bio-terrorist attack and as a viewer, you only hope for the pace that 24 brought with it. The plot twists feel dated and the eventual introduction of politics, as Kirkman is now an active player, feels childish. The show keeps itself on a moral pedestal as the characters are pretty black-and-white and it is far too easy to spot the villain from a mile away.

By the third season, the show was already cancelled by ABC but Netflix gave it a fresh lease of life for 10 episodes. It was obvious from the first episode that the show had entered the soap-opera arena. There was way too much drama and secrecy in the storyline for it to be taken seriously. Kirkman’s storyline of being an independent candidate, Aaron’s political dreams and the many new characters introduced here were just not meaty enough for us to stay interested. Even the finale that had Kirkman pulling off the impossible did not seem convincing at all and if the characters look so unsure, it’s hard for the audience to come on board.


The first season of Designated Survivor is easy to get through and is just the perfect kind-of popcorn television. Season 2 and 3 can be watched just because you already started with the series and it is better to have something to watch than just scroll aimlessly.

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Designated Survivor is streaming on Netflix.

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