Designated Survivor Series Review: Where The Show Went Wrong, and How A Revival Can Make It Right Again

Designated Survivor

The question of the ABC political drama Designated Survivor possibly being revived is currently floating around Hollywood. The show was canceled after two seasons on ABC, but there is talk that the series may be revived on a new network, specifically Netflix. That talk is contingent upon the layout a new showrunner would have in mind. Part of the problem with Season 2 was that the switch in showrunners at the last minute did not leave much time for the show to set a clear and efficient path forward. Thus, the following problems arose throughout the season. And unfortunately, Designated Survivor isn’t the first show to get caught in these plot-driven traps.

Where Season 2 Went Wrong:

-Killing Off A Lead Female

My personal opinion is always against this move. It’s a cheap tactic meant to infuse more drama, but all it ultimately does is leave a sizable hole in the canvas [see Kevin Can Wait]. The cliched, underwhelming death of the First Lady created some tension for a few episodes, and then weakened the strength of the White House and the President. Many political dramas are stronger because of the strong bond between the First Couple. (I expect to see this point emphasized even more as Madam Secretary gets closer to its election year.)

-Kim Raver’s Slow Introduction

The 24 alum was a good addition to the cast, but her character was misused in more than one way. She barely had a presence in her first episode, and while her visits to the White House increased, she never took on one consistent role. Instead, her character’s various skills were doled out to the President as needed, including a friendship that never quite took off. I blame Natascha McElhone’s exit for the bad timing.

-Too Many Conspiracies

This may seem contradictory to what the premise of the show was from Day 1, but Season 2 was a little different. Season 1 focused on one large conspiracy, which slowly unraveled as people put the pieces together. Season 2 was more about fitting random pieces into a conspiracy which didn’t make itself known until near the end of the season. Not to mention, many of the pieces didn’t fit together as cohesively. Though in actuality, there was one big conspiracy per season, it didn’t feel like it, so it didn’t work.

-Too Few Allies

In the back half of Season 2, President Kirkman lost more allies than he could count. He also lost his allies in a very short amount of time, with such speed only seen in the event of an impeachable scandal. And even though impeachment became a very real possibility, that too did not feel earned. It felt like the President was being ganged up on during his time of grief, leaving a sour taste in this writer’s mouth. This was a show that initially focused on bridging the party divide, if only out of necessity since everyone in both parties was killed in the pilot. That kind of energy was refreshing, and sorely lacking in Season 2.

-Old vs. Young

This may be my biggest gripe, because it is the hardest to balance, yet the most important. Every single one of the people in the President’s inner circle was in the ‘Under 40’ crowd. Again, this could easily be explained by the old regime being killed in the pilot, but it didn’t have to be. One solution could have been to bring back Congresswoman Hookstraten, who was a great ally to the President in the first season. Her strength as a member of an opposing party, as well as being the other designated survivor, could have really come in handy when President Kirkman was facing so much of the old regime.

-The Kids

Use them properly or send them to boarding school, especially when you have a teenager.

Potential For Season 3

Now, with all of that being said, here is why the show deserves one more chance with a revival. When I first previewed the show at the Paley Center’s preview, I was immediately taken in by the gravity of the situation. The terror on Kiefer Sutherland’s face sucked me back to 9/11. He was an ordinary man, sitting in a sweatshirt, joking with his wife about the state of the current administration. He carried that sense of the ordinary man into his role as “The People’s President.” And though he has grown more into the power defined by the job, he has never once held ego over the good of the people. (What a concept, right?) I believe my words to describe the first half of Season 1 were, “the President America needs.”

A third season gives President Kirkman one more opportunity to fight the good fight. The stakes for this fight were heightened by the end of the season, with both parties lashing out at Kirkman for daring to hold his ground as an Independent party candidate. In order to win this fight, Kirkman would have to take bigger personal risks, truly proving himself as worthy of the nation’s loyalty. There’s also the added conspiracy element that is a hallmark of the show. The latest one teed up was [Spoiler Alert] the President’s recently resigned Chief of Staff (Italia Ricci) colluding in some form with a Russian operative. If that teaser were to be part of a larger game plan for a potential third season, I could see movement going forward.

Do you think that Designated Survivor deserves a third season?



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