Fans of The West Wing will likely remember the episode in which Leo tells Bartlett, ahead of delivering his State of the Union speech, that he has to “pick a guy” to leave behind in the White House just in case they don’t make it back.
In American government talk, that person is the Designated Survivor and Netflix’s latest acquisition explores what happens when an explosion propels Kiefer Sutherland’s low ranking Cabinet member, Tom Kirkman, into the highest office in the land.
The opening episode – available to stream now – starts with Kirkman’s sudden promotion before embarking on a needless flashback which reveals
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he was due to be sacked from the cabinet – a plot point which is repeated in dialogue just minutes later when the story returns to the present time.
Had the writers left the revelation to the dialogue, the audience would have likely gotten a big shock when they realised just how tenuous the new President’s moral hold on his job really was.
Instead what could have been a big drama moment is wasted.
And that’s a shame because the episode, while highly enjoyable, is pretty light on actual drama and would have benefited immensely from an ‘Oh my god’ moment which the heavily trailed initial disaster cannot deliver.
However the rest of the episode is a strong exploration of how an ordinary guy copes when asked not just to lead a Government, but also hold together a nation under attack.
Leading man Sutherland is first class.
Nothing of his performance as the geeky, Clark Kent figure who fails to impress both the surviving White House staff and military leaders, even hints at 24’s Jack Bauer and audiences are surely going to love watching as Kirkman grows into his new job.
Despite its grim backstory, the episode has room for a couple of decent gags – fans of White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen will appreciate the one about the ‘Nuclear Football’.
This is a very strong opening instalment which ends with a promise of many thrills and upsets to come but with Netflix only dropping one episode a week – the show only made its US debut this week – you’ll find yourself frustrated not to be able to immediately learn what happens next.