Review: Jack Bauer returns as President in 'Designated Survivor'

Posted September 04,2017 - 10:44 AM

I suppose becoming President of the United States was the logical next step for 24 survivor Jack Bauer, but it's a survival of a completely different sort that Kiefer Sutherland discovers on Designated Survivor: The Complete First Season. Yes, I know that Jack Bauer is only a character that Kiefer Sutherland played for a bunch of high-tension seasons on the popular TV series, but Jack and Kiefer might as well be interchangeable at this point.

That is what happens when you find later in life success going against type, just ask Liam Neeson.

What is interesting about Designated Survivor though is that Kiefer Sutherland's Tom Kirkman is more of a lamb than a lion. Of course, that's one of the primary story arcs of the first season, watching Tim Kirkman evolve from the meek-mannered Housing and Urban Development Secretary to the most powerful man in the free world.

Kiefer Sutherland is allowed to shine during this transition by flexing more of his subtle acting muscles than he ever had to show during his run on 24. Of course, fans of 24 won't be completely disappointed as there is still plenty of action in the series as most of the first season follows the fallout of an explosion at the Capitol Building during the President's State of the Union. As you may have guessed, Tom Kirkman is the designated survivor and quickly ascends to the highest office in the land while the country mourns what would rival 9/11 as the most tragic act of terrorism on U.S. soil.

What Designated Survivor excels at is the delicate blend between action and drama. When the show is at its best, the dramatic elements resemble some of the better moments that we saw in The West Wing while the action sequences approach some of the early action that we saw in 24. To be fair, the show spends more time on the dramatic side of things, so if you're tuning in simply to be entertained by glossy action, then you will probably be a bit disappointed.

While Kiefer Sutherland is the bonafide star of the show, one of the show's strengths lies in the wonderful ensemble cast. In particular, the young support staff that Tom Kirkman surrounds himself with also grows into their roles as the season progresses. Relative newcomers Adan Canto and Italia Ricci join vet Kal Penn as the nucleus of the new West Wing staff and their newness helps to resonate through their characters.

The real scene-stealer of the bunch though is Kal Penn who brings real-life West Wing experience to the show. The Harold & Kumar star served as the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement under President Obama and it's pretty evident that his experience is helping the series creators to make their show as realistic as possible.

Unlike many other TV series offerings, Designated Survivor: The Complete First Season offers a complete compliment of bonus features that make it that much more desirable to own. In particular, the "Debriefs" and the set tour are pretty fascinating looks behind the curtain to see how they make the sausage look so appealing. They also include something that I have never seen on a package before and that is the complete first speech of President Tom Kirkman. In the show, it's cut up and abbreviated so that the creators can maximize its punch, but the speech is still quite compelling in its original, complete length.

As the season progressed, the action plot started to take a more of a center stage and that was both good and potentially dangerous for the show going forward. There was certainly a bit of novelty to the first few episodes given the unique series of events that took place, but with a more heavier reliance on the action in future seasons, one wonders how long before the show simply devolves into 24 2.0?

I, for one, hope that they are able to keep that delicate balance in place as they move forward. It's not like there isn't plenty of political fodder to pluck from today's headlines to fuel the political drama aspect of the show. But, it will certainly be interesting to see if they can keep the intrique and suspense up to the levels that fans of 24 have come to expect.

Only time will tell. Designated Survivor: The Complete First Season is now available on DVD.