Designated Survivor Pilot Reviews

Designated Survivor 1×01 – Pilot

"Nobody around here ever gives up power."


Ever since 24 went off the airwaves, Kiefer Sutherland’s been floundering about trying to find a role that could match the intensity of the iconic hero we know as Jack Bauer. His second series, NBC’s Touch, was short-lived, while his return to 24 for an additional standalone season proved underwhelming in every way. Thankfully it looks like Sutherland has finally found a role that’s different (yet similar) enough to hit the jackpot. Enter Designated Survivor!

ABC’s latest thriller has got one hell of a hook: a low-level Cabinet member becomes President of The United States after a terrorist attack kills everybody above him in the line of succession. The pilot wastes no time throwing us into the thick of the action, and Sutherland is definitely up to the task. He imbues our hero with just the right dose of everyday relatability, and a hidden streak of fortitude at opportune moments. There’s no denying that Kiefer can carry a high-octane thriller such as this one; we just have to pray the rest of the show can keep up!

On the bright side, Survivor’s conspiracy angle will be headed by Maggie Q, the kickass star of Nikita, one of my favorite spy series of all time. That narrative isn’t afforded too much time in the pilot, but I have high hopes the writers will allow Maggie to kick ass in the Bauer role (since Kiefer will be restricted to Oval Office shenanigans). The rest of the cast does a fine job as well: Blood & Oil‘s Adan Canto plays Tom’s Deputy Chief of Staff, while Supergirl‘s Italia Ricci is Tom’s confidante who soon finds herself in the midst of a whole new world.

Unfortunately, Designated Survivor suffers from one highly painful element: the dreaded teen angst shtick that is extremely worn out at this point. Must every show have a rebellious teenager causing trouble and distracting us from the main storyline? Here it’s Tanner Buchanan as Leo who is tasked with the irritating role. Not only is the character eerily similar to Frank on Fear The Walking Dead, but this is Sutherland’s second pilot (after 24) with a teenager who disappears in the midst of a terrorist attack. Groan… enough already!

Presidential Bits

– It must be reiterated: the teaser is awesome. It immediately sells you on the show within the span of a couple of minutes. Sadly it’s all ruined yet with yet another in-media-res opening. Why do shows insist on abusing this horrid device after a decade of overuse? I will never stop complaining. Never.

– Great touch: the President actually fired Tom the morning of the attack.

– I love analyzing title cards. This one is simple enough (it brings the poster to life) but it’s over way too quick.

– So who is Maggie Q’s Hannah calling? Was her boyfriend/agent in the blast? Perhaps he was President’s security detail?

– I liked Tom throwing up in the bathroom, but his scene with the speechwriter was way too heavy-handed. Some subtlety please!

– Tom’s meeting with the Iranian Ambassador was kind of anticlimactic wasn’t it?

– The war-ready general is way too much of stereotype for me. And he’s got secrets and plans of his own. #Creative.

– Underwhelming ending. I like the idea of the speech, but I wanted a jawdropping final shot.

Designated Digs

Charlie: Well, Tom, we were gonna wait till after the State of the Union to tell you this, but the President’s looking to make a change. He would like to offer you an ambassadorship to the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Tom: Are you serious? Was the Chairman of the International House of Pancakes unavailable?

Leo: How’d you find me?
Mike: It wasn’t easy. We had to open up an ops center at NSA, run the phone records of all your friends and classmates through PRISM till we could piece together enough chatter keywords to trace your digital footprint to the club.
Leo: Really?
Mike: No, Leo. We pinged your phone.

It’s not groundbreaking by any means, but this is a well-made thriller with enough potential to keep you hooked. For now…

Nad Rating


  1. Great review!! Felt the same about everything, especially the druggie teenage subplot which is already exhausting (there's a TON more of that in next week's promo). And the in-media-res opening..dear god WHY?!

    But Kiefer was fantastic! Never seen 24 but he's immediately relatable here. He's got great on-screen presence, doesn't he? And he actually looks like a president (kinda like Kevin Spacey).

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