TV reviews

Designated Survivor – 2×01 ‘One Year In’ – Review

Tony Black reviews Season 2, Episode 1...

Much as Kiefer Sutherland struggles to convince me as President of the United States, and much as Designated Survivor is often painfully American when it comes to jingoism, it would be damn good to have a Tom Kirkman in the White House in these disturbing political times. ‘One Year In’ makes a point of re-establishing not just the premise of the series but the state of the Kirkman Presidency, with roughly a six-month time jump since billionaire domestic terrorist Patrick Lloyd launched a cyber-attack on the Pentagon, stealing all of the US’ intelligence secrets. Kirkman, as it seems he always will be, remains on the proverbial ropes from the media and the polls, and Season Two looks set to be the year he aims to prove himself.

Given the show airs on FOX in the US, David Guggenheim’s show is never likely to fully move away from the level of flag-waving and patriotic rhetoric it engages, but in this premiere it does seem to be making a concerted effort to portray Kirkman even more as a liberal, morally-guided leader than even the first season shoved down our throats. An intentional antidote to the real world Commander-in-Chief or simply in tune with Sutherland’s character? It could be a bit of both.

Adding in a personal level of loss to the Ukrainian plane hostage situation for Kirkman (not just a best friend he slighted, but a saintly Peace Corps doctor no less) hammers home how even the biggest crises’ weigh personally on his psyche, before he ends up flattering a writer being gifted an Arts honour who hates the very notion of Establishment. The message is simple: Kirkman is less Donald, more Barack.

The show isn’t just about Kirkman or Kiefer, mind, indeed there’s a sense the writers are attempting to expand the series out to have more of an ensemble feeling for the sophomore year, focusing as much on character interactions as the conspiracy plotline. With Aaron Shore (Adan Canto) back in the White House as National Security Adviser, it offers plenty of opportunity for him to struggle with Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci) bossing him around as Chief of Staff, while Press Secretary Seth Wright (Kal Penn) seems to be looking for another job (when he should probably be looking for a Strepsil). Much as he’s annoyingly glum, through him we do get the neat point of how all the news coming out of modern politics feels reactive and combative, and while Seth is no Sean Spicer, you can understand that frame of reference.

Two of the new characters added into the mix this season play a role, too. Lyor Boone makes the biggest impression, the incumbent Political Director played by Paulo Costanzo (known for essaying grad school, slightly smug geniuses), who pitches for the job by spending the episode insulting everyone from Kirkman down, and naturally he gets it (would never happen in the real world). Through Lyor they’re trying to add quirkiness and a much needed dash of caustic character comedy, but Costanzo will need to pitch it right if he wants to be Richard Schiff.

Less effective is Damian Rennett, a hilariously cliched MI6 agent played by James Bond—sorry, Ben Lawson—who seems to be Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) new partner as she now travels Europe in search of Lloyd. If he’s anything it’s proof the action, conspiracy arm of Designated Survivor feels more awkward and redundant every passing episode – one wonders how long it might last if the series continues to be greenlit.

An entertaining, solid premiere, ‘One Year In’ doesn’t quite reset the button for Designated Survivor but works to engage new and returning viewers by establishing President Kirkman’s mission statement, introduce some new characters, and balance the political wheeling and dealing with the ongoing 24-style action conspiracy narrative. You can see the join a little, and the writing is frequently as schlocky and wince-inducingly patriotic in places as the first season, but it remains as fun and easy a watch as its debut year.

Designated Survivor Season 2 is now airing on Netflix UK every Thursday. Let us know what you think of the new season!

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