In Fox’s hit drama, 24, Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer was credited with saving the lives of more than one American president. In Designated Survivor, premiering at 10 p.m. Wednesday, September 21, on ABC, Sutherland will now occupy the Oval Office himself after a horrific attack lays waste to the U.S. Capitol, leaving his character, Tom Kirkman, the last cabinet official standing. For those who have missed Sutherland’s kiss-ass performance as Bauer (and waited in vain for a follow up film), Designated Survivor should have a built in audience of fans.
Sutherland’s Kirkman is an academic who has never held elective office. As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, he is 12th in line for the presidency, an order of succession that makes it virtually impossible that he would ever be sworn in to the top job. The afternoon before the State of the Union Address, Kirkland and his chief of staff, Emily Rhodes (Italia Ricci), fail to convince the White House Chief of Staff Aaron Shore (Adan Canto), that housing initiatives for low income areas be added to the president’s speech. But there’s more bad news. Shore tells Kirkland that he will be asked to resign from the cabinet the following day. In return, the president will appoint Kirkland an ambassador to a United Nations outpost in Montreal.
Natascha McElhone and Kiefer Sutherland (Photo credit: ABC/Ian Watson)
Because he’s on his way out, Kirkland is tapped to be the “designated survivor,” the cabinet official chosen for security reasons not to attend the State of the Union address. Kirkland and his wife, Alex (Natascha McElhone) sit in a nondescript conference room, miles away from the Capitol, munching popcorn and watching the president’s speech when the screen goes blank. The unimaginable has happened. A bomb has decimated the Capitol building, killing not only the president, the vice president, and the entire cabinet, but all of Congress, and we assume, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court as well. In short order, Kirkland and his wife are whisked away to the White House by Secret Service Agent Mike Ritter (La Monica Garrett). As a stunned staff looks on, Kirkland is sworn in as president.
There’s no time to grieve or brush up on foreign policy. Kirkland must quickly step in to reassure a nation and its allies, as well as head off any aggressive moves by America’s enemies. Still in sweats, Kirkland is confronted by a roomful of officials who want to counter a move by Iran with military might. How Kirkland handles this first showdown previews how he will approach the job.
McKenna Grace and Tanner Buchanan (Photo credit: ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg)
Kirkland’s family also must adjust. Alex seems stunned when the president’s speechwriter, Seth Wright (Kal Penn) reminds her that she’s now the First Lady. The couple’s young daughter Penny (McKenna Grace) is terrified to find herself in a new bedroom at the White House. Their teenage son Leo (Tanner Buchanan), is tracked down partying in a club, initially thinking he’s being arrested for selling drugs, unaware that his life is about to change.
Maggie Q (Photo credit: ABC/Ian Watson)
FBI agents Jason Atwood (Malik Yoba) and Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) lead the FBI team searching through the rubble left on the Hill. No group claims responsibility for the bombing which has Hannah worried. It may mean that the attacks are just beginning. (Although it’s hard to imagine what could be worse than wiping out the entire U.S. government.) If succeeding episodes continue to develop the characters and the storyline promised by the pilot, ABC may have a hit on its hands.
Top photo credit: ABC/Ben Mark Holzberg