Thursday, October 6, 2016

Review: Designated Survivor Written by Designated Idiots

Remember when I showed you that video about Designated Survivor, a TV show about the Tom Clancy plot point where someone blows up the State of the Union address, making the last man standing President? I had expressed some concerns. After all, Kiefer Sutherland and politics? Let's not recreate season 6 of 24; and none of us want a rehash of that.

Here, Kiefer plays the HUD secretary, left behind for the SotU. That sent up warning flags.

And it's on ABC, the channel dedicated to the morally bankrupt and the vile; ie: everything done by Shonda Rhimes.

And it co-stars Kal Penn, the actor who left House to join the Obama administration, and also Harold and Kumar movies.

A subplot would include FBI Agent Maggie Q trying to figure out who blew up the State of the Union. And I liked her on Nikita and Stalker.

So, there's gotta be the hope that if the Presidential plots are agit-prop BS, the subplot with the FBI would save the day, right?

But noooooo. Whatever you're thinking the problems my be, it is so, so much worse than this.

Let's talk about what worked for a moment.

I like Kiefer Sutherland. I really do. When he is on, he is on. When he was Jack Bauer, he apparently fell into Guns and Ammo Magazine. Here, he's ... Mister Rogers. He's constantly wearing sweaters, dorky glasses that have been deemed "Unpresidential," and he's a dork. He really is, and he's supposed to be. When he is thrust into the situation room (which has now become a massive CTU headquarters under the White House, complete with massive computer screens the size of jumbotrons), he has to leave and puke his guts out. Reasonable. He does not want this job, he does not want to be here, but it's better than the alternative.

In the first and second episodes, he carries it off very well as the main focus of the episode. When Iran tries to make a move after the SotU bombing, he stares down the ambassador, and invites Iran to call his bluff, with a subtle message of "F with me, and I will end you, have a good day. Thanks." And it doesn't break the character. When he has to deal with another situation of a governor going rogue and arresting people, Kiefer explains that they arrested three FBI agents, and you have to release everybody, or their cover will be blown ... there are no agents, but it works anyway. And it's fairly well executed.

There is a cute bit of business with "cops harassing Muslims" in episode two, which is undercut by Kal Penn being approached by two cops -- one checks his ID and lets him go, and one asks him if he lost anybody in the bombing. That was touching, and helped swallow the rest of the episode's premise, which we will touch on below.

Now, some problems. All of them.

"Wait," you ask, "What about the rest of the good stuff?" No. There is nothing else. Kiefer Sutherland is the only reason to watch this show, and by episode three, we are hip deep in everyone else's business.

Let's take this in order.

Not to nitpick, but episode 1 declares Kiefer to be POTUS witin 10 minutes of the bombing. Ten minutes. Maybe 20. How did they know the President and the VP had died? I know it's television, but come on, at least cut away to an hour later.

Nope, we can't do that, because "an hour later," the end of the episode, Kiefer has to be on television giving a speech to reassure everyone that the government is up and running. I would make a joke about "events happen in real time," but that joke is too good for this show.

By the end of the first episode, you have the general and the presumptive Chief of Staff having a discussion about replacing Kiefer as president.

Yes, that.

My first thought is: "NOOOOO, YOU WENT TO SEVEN DAYS IN MAY." This is the oldest political cliche in movies, possibly inspired by Eisenhower warning about the Military Industrial complex. I'm sure, back then, someone said, "Ah, the military overthrowing the government, no one's ever done this before. But to sell it, we need two powerhouses of Hollywood, get me Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas!"

Instead, we have General Evil McObvious being so blatant about it from minute one, he should be fired on the spot.

Oh, wait, because it gets better. Because they basically repeat this EXACT SAME CONVERSATION in the second episode as well.

And around this exactly same time, FBI agent Maggie Q is starting to have doubts about who blew up the White House, trying to frame some poor innocent Islamic terrorist bastards.

AND General Evil McObvious uses all of his screen time to push President Kiefer into nuking this "obviously not Osama" knockoff.

President Kiefer wants undeniable proof who did it, and "While we're looking for evidence, find me not Osama, so that when we have the proof, we can cut his head off."

Okay, I read into that one, because I wanted Jack Bauer to deliver that line.

I should mention that, by the start of episode three, Kiefer has been President for 36 hours.

Show of hands: does anyone remember how long it took for President GW Bush to declare who was behind 9-11? About 30 days, give or take a few. It was mid to late October when he made the decision to go into Afghanistan. This show has General McObvious wanting to JUST BOMB SOMEBODY ALREADY.

Episode two has the reveal that the Republicans had their own designated survivor, because Republicans. And the Governor of Michigan is declaring martial law, arresting whole swaths of the Muslim community, throwing them in jail, and beat one teenager to death. Because .... decades of the Caliphate of Dearborn have become too much for him? I don't know. He's republican, he's evil, and he's got to be so blatantly evil he's doing this just because "he's afraid." I'm sorry, have the writers even BEEN to Dearborn? It's more likely they're having a party.

Here, let me show you Dearborn.

Pardon me if I have trouble believing the "cops go out of control, beat Muslim teen to death" narrative. If they're not handing out wooden showers to these folks, I have problems believing they're targeting innocent teens.

Episode 3, of course, is where I drew the line. Remember when I highlighted that Kiefer was the designated survivor as HUD secretary? Apparently, he was going to be given an Ambassadorship to ... I don't recall, micronesia or something. Basically, he was going to be fired.

Wait ... I'm sorry... if he was fired, whose bright idea was it to give him the designated survivor position? He didn't draw straws or anything, he got the news by phone call. And it's obvious he was on the way out to everybody but him. WHOSE BRIGHT IDEA WAS THIS?  When it becomes public in episode 3, no one says, "Obviously, I wasn't fired, I was given the designated survivor position, thanks."

During episode 3, we have not-Osama claiming credit for the SotU attack. Then it's highlighted that these Jihadis claim credit for other people's attacks, so President Kiefer tells them to sit on it until real evidence comes in. When the news piece on "weren't you fired?" aired, Chief of Staff wannabe leaks it to change the story to not-Osama.  When given the chance to fire this a-hole, Kiefer keeps him on because he needs a snake on his payroll... because giving the guy who just stabbed you in the back a second chance is really a good idea.

At the end of the day, it is an abomination that -- side from General McObvious-- Maggie Q is the worst part of this serious. I'm waiting for her superior to check off all of the 80s cop show cliches: "You're a rogue cop, going off the reservation, trashing the fourth amendment," blah blah blah f**kity blah.

And no ABC network show would be complete without the soap opera elements. Oh, heck, Maggie Q brings that, too. Because one of the Senators who got blown up? She was sleeping with him. He was still married. And "separated from his wife." And even SHE acknowledges that it was stupid. And, since that's not enough soap opera, Kiefer's son is a drug dealer. Yes, because slipping your secret service detail is just so easy for a teenager.

At the end of the day, I had to give up on this show. Every time the focus is off of Kiefer, I don't care, and when the focus is on Kiefer, I want more than what I'm getting. It's way too rushed, and not rushed enough. The minute by minute interactions are relatively calm and relaxed, while the show is insisting that all of these things have to happen THIS MINUTE -- gotta blame somebody this minute, gotta have a funeral for the President before we even have a body.

Say what you like about the agit-prop that The West Wing became at the end, but it had snappy, quick writing, easy banter, and you could maybe give a damn about more than two people in the ensemble. This show was obviously trying to be an ensemble show, but was designed around The Star. This leads to poor use of The Star (Kiefer), and crappy, cliche plot lines. By the end of the pilot episode, you know that General Evil McObvious is the bad guy who blew up the White House; by the first appearance of the "Republican Designated Survivor," you knew she was going to stab someone in the back eventually (does it in episode 3). And by the end of episode 3, there's more shadowy, elliptical hints of conspiracy theory plotlines that I just threw up my hands and said "Enough."

Dear Kiefer, you're executive producer on 24: Legacy. You can get a part in the cast. Do it now. Because THERE'S NO TIME.

Anyway, you might want to check out my novel Sad Puppies Bite Back.  I promise, it's funny.

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