Karl Puschmann is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Is Netflix's new show Designated Survivor explosive viewing or a fizzer?

Kiefer Sutherland stars as President Tom Kirkman in the new Netflix political drama Designated Survivor.
Kiefer Sutherland stars as President Tom Kirkman in the new Netflix political drama Designated Survivor.

I'll give Netflix's new series Designated Survivor this; it opens with one hell of a bang.

During the American President's annual State of the Union address a cluster of bombs explode, killing the President, the entirety of the US congress and totally destroying Capitol Hill in a brazen and utterly devastating act of terrorism.

The only politician to escape the carnage is Tom Kirkman, the mild mannered and idealistic Secretary of Housing and Development who is holed up miles away in an undisclosed safe house.

He's no one special. In fact, he'd only been selected for the rube's assignment of 'Designated Survivor' because he'd recently fallen out of favour with the President due to his socially aware, but eye-wateringly costly, new housing policies.

So what is a 'designated survivor' anyway? Basically, it's the State's leadership insurance policy.

It's only there in case the unimaginable should occur. Which, of course it never would.

Until it does...

The horrifying attack quickly transforms Kirkman's cushy night of downing a few beers and watching the Pres drone through his speech on the telly into the ultimate, terrifying, responsibility.

Less than a minute after the explosion the Secret Service have busted in and whisked him out of the safe house and straight to an underground bunker in the White House.

Once there he's promptly sworn in as the new President of the United States of America, making him the first man to take office while wearing faded jeans and an old hoodie and looking like he's about to faint from the shock of it all...

Kiefer Sutherland's character Tom Kirkman gets sworn in as US President in Netflix's series Designated Survivor
Kiefer Sutherland's character Tom Kirkman gets sworn in as US President in Netflix's series Designated Survivor

If this all sounds very fast paced and exciting, well, it is. There's no mucking about. It's all fire and brimstone before the opening credits have even rolled making it near impossible not to get swept up in all the rapid apocalyptic action.

Factor in the class act that is Kiefer Sutherland as Kirkman and you can't help but feel like you're watching a smart, slick, political action series that has a similar vibe to that of Sutherland's old smart, slick, spy action series 24.

So it's as devastating as those explosions that Designated Survivor dumbs down as rapidly as it wound up.

The promisingly entertaining premise of an unwanted, way out of his depth, President attempting to cope with and navigate a major national catastrophe, find a way to deal with States going rogue and undermining his Presidency, all the while staring down the opportunistic international needling of crafty US foes is hugely intriguing.

If only it wasn't so damned corny. Once that gripping intro wraps up and the story beings unfolding it dissolves into all the obviousness and hackneyed hokum of your typical Tom Clancy novel.

The show's cliché characters hit you over the head with their clanging, overly dramatic lines and its themes and messages are about as subtle as a brick falling from a tremendous height and landing square on your foot.

You've got the war mad War general barking like a loon about first strikes, an FBI agent with a bad feeling about all the clues being discovered, all while the show spells out grand statements like racial profiling is bad, mmmkay.

No opportunity for cheese goes wanting. No chance for a groaning explanation is missed. No set of cutesy circumstances is considered too unbelievable to not run with.

And throughout it all, the meek Kirkman is all of a sudden a political genius. He's bluffing his way out of escalating international relations, duping unruly senators with cunning ruses and shouting down department heads whose hunger for retribution goes against his moral code.

So if this now all sounds very hokey and lame, well, it is. But, surpringly and you'll have to stay with me here, I don't think you should completely write it off.

Despite its problems Designated Survivor is undoubtedly a slickly watchable show. Yes, it can be over obvious, some of the acting is atrociously overplayed and in its cornier moments it's groan inducing.

But it's still entertaining viewing. How long it can ride the momentum of that engrossing opening is the big question. And one that I'm in no rush to answer.

For now I'm happy to just bunker down and enjoy the fall out.

- NZ Herald

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