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Tom Kirkman, a lower-level cabinet member, is suddenly appointed President of the United States after a catastrophic attack on the U.S. Capitol during the State of the Union.

Episode Title: Pilot
Airs: 2016-09-21 at 22:00
  • David Wiegand

    As equal parts action and drama, and giving Kiefer Sutherland one of the best roles of his career, Designated Survivor is the season’s first sure thing. Make that “Designated” sure thing.

    San Francisco Chronicle Full Review
  • Terry Terrones

    It grabs your attention within the first few minutes and keeps you fixated on your screen until the last, dramatic scene. The hourlong pilot feels like 30 minutes and will leave you wanting more.

    Colorado Springs Gazette Full Review
  • Matthew Gilbert

    The pilot is tremendous. It’s tightly plotted, and, despite being about terrorism like “24,” it brings Sutherland out of the shadow of can-do Jack Bauer.

    Boston Globe Full Review
  • Mary McNamara

    The first hour’s masterful swings among moments large and small, mind-boggling and utterly familiar, make it easy to believe that Designated Survivor is just getting started as well.

    Los Angeles Times Full Review
  • Robert Bianco

    With a little humor to lighten the tension, some well-placed quiet moments to keep the show grounded and a fast pace that keeps any seams from showing, Designated arrives as the most satisfying opening hour of any new broadcast drama.

    USA Today Full Review
  • Ben Travers

    Designated Survivor doesn’t take itself so seriously that audiences are unable to enjoy seeing an unsettled Sutherland don a suit and become the sort of badass POTUS we all know and love.

    Indiewire Full Review
  • Joshua Alston

    As a standalone episode of television, Survivor’s pilot is nothing to cartwheel over, but as it lays out the show’s premise, it becomes obvious why network executives would snap it up. It’s destined to become one of fall’s biggest network hits, and all because Sutherland accepted his role as the elder statesman of the small screen action thriller.

    The A.V. Club Full Review
  • Vicki Hyman

    Designated Survivor has got a dynamite premise, but the premiere episode flounders when it leaves the White House for the ruins of the Capitol, where FBI agent Hannah Wells (Maggie Q) is spearheading the investigation.

    Newark Star-Ledger Full Review
  • Jeff Jensen

    Sutherland is incredibly appealing and credible in a change-of-pace role. The supporting players are well cast.

    Entertainment Weekly Full Review
  • Rob Lowman

    It looks like Sutherland has another winner on his hands.

    Los Angeles Daily News Full Review
  • Jen Chaney

    It’s smartly made, but it also doesn’t linger terribly long on details, including character development. ... If nothing else, there is something satisfying about seeing Sutherland as our president.

    New York Magazine (Vulture) Full Review
  • Rob Owen

    Designated Survivor pilot has its share of gaps in logic but it’s engrossing, if not entirely believable, and features the best opening scene of fall’s broadcast drama pilots.

    Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Full Review
  • Sonia Saraiya

    The pilot does everything it needs to, checking off the necessary boxes for the unwilling American hero-president in efficient, compelling scenes. This show isn’t going to be for everyone, but it comes with one of the highest-quality pilots broadcast is offering this fall, and it’s ABC’s strongest drama.

    Variety Full Review
  • Glenn Garvin

    Designated Survivor has a terrific pilot episode. Yet it could go off the rails at any moment. Full Review
  • Gail Pennington

    Designated Survivor [is] a lot of shows in one, but in the early going at least, they are all ones to watch.

    St. Louis Post-Dispatch Full Review
  • Mark A. Perigard

    Sutherland is impressive as a nice guy exercising his backbone for perhaps the first time in his life. He works hard to get past one of the most iconic roles in television. The idealism is palpable, even if the show seems a bit too idealistic. The supporting cast seems stuck taking predictable positions.

    Boston Herald Full Review
  • Ed Bark

    Wednesday’s opening episode, the only one made available for review, solidly sets the hook while only partly weaning Sutherland from all those years as Jack Bauer on 24.

    Uncle Barky Full Review
  • Hank Stuever

    One episode into Designated Survivor may not convince these “24” fans that their beloved Kiefer Sutherland is now a deskbound, rookie POTUS. But once you’re over that hump, the show certainly makes a compelling case for its premise.

    Washington Post Full Review
  • Isaac Feldberg

    That B-plot is where Designated Survivor has the potential to adhere most stringently to formula, with Wells chasing down leads and interrogating suspects Bauer-style in order to prevent further chaos, but even that traditional side of the series is deftly introduced. Ideally, it will remain in the background; Sutherland is where the show soars.

    We Got This Covered Full Review
  • David Sims

    The problem is that Kirkman’s unexpected rise to power is just a little too grim to make that outcome worth fully celebrating. ... There’s no question that the political side of Designated Survivor is the more fascinating one, but there’s something clever about a network show combining the day-to-day concerns of The West Wing with the paranoid conspiracies of Homeland.

    The Atlantic Full Review
  • Ellen Gray

    Sutherland, a thoughtful actor who was limited to a few expressions in 24, gets to show more of his range here, shedding his action-hero persona for something even more reassuring: a grown-up.

    Philadelphia Inquirer Full Review
  • Ken Tucker

    Wednesday night’s pilot is more of a palette-cleanser than a full meal: It sets up the situation without having the time to see how everything will be digested.

    Yahoo TV Full Review
  • Todd VanDerWerff

    Sutherland perfectly captures the dizzying nausea anyone would feel in this situation. ... But there’s every chance the conspiracy stuff takes over, and if there’s one thing about Designated Survivor that gives me pause, it’s that. Full Review
  • Verne Gay

    Overly familiar story beats and cardboard character cutouts in Wednesday’s opener blunt the return of Jack Bauer 2.0. A hint of genuine promise, however, remains.

    Newsday Full Review
  • Alan Sepinwall

    In a way, all Guggenheim needs to accomplish in the pilot is to put Sutherland behind the desk in the Oval Office, and he does that. But Designated Survivor feels like it could be a whole lot more than that, perhaps if it started trying to do a bit less overall.

    Hitfix Full Review
  • Robert Rorke

    Designated Survivor does a decent job of mapping the confusion felt by Kirkman, his wife and various White House stock figures, but with “Madam Secretary” playing in the same faux political sandbox, the show feels a little too familiar.

    New York Post Full Review
  • Scott D. Pierce

    For the first half hour or so, Designated Survivor feels a lot "The West Wing"--and that's about the highest praise I can give a show. But then things start to deteriorate. There's a rather ridiculous plot involving Kirkman's son. Worse yet, there's a plot involving one of the generals who seems to be plotting a coup--and he's a cartoonish villain if ever there was one.

    The Salt Lake Tribune Full Review
  • Tim Goodman

    While the acting government is scrambling to reset itself, Designated Survivor spends a lot of time on Tom's wife, Alex (Natasha McElhone), who is trying to buoy his spirits (he was fired 15 hours earlier and then, well, you know); the Kirkmans' cute daughter, who can't figure out what's going on; and teen son Leo (Tanner Buchanan), acting like an obnoxious teenager and stuff. Yes, we need to know about his family, but not for all the minutes we're given in the pilot.

    The Hollywood Reporter Full Review
  • Mike Hale

    The execution of this premise, which takes up not quite the first half of the pilot, is taut, fast-moving and reasonably believable, offering some promise that Designated Survivor could develop into an entertaining hybrid of political thriller and family drama. Once Kirkman arrives at the White House, though, the momentum fades as various tedious-looking subplots are introduced, and disbelief becomes more difficult to suspend.

    The New York Times Full Review
  • Dorothy Rabinowitz

    The problem comes in the second episode, along with a suddenly increased capacity to resist everything about Designated Survivor. Here we come up against the show’s message, or more precisely its gross political tendentiousness. ... Mr. Sutherland may not have been the best choice for the role of a virtuous milquetoast concealing a heart of steel--the milquetoast part dominates even when the steel is flashed.

    Wall Street Journal Full Review
  • Daniel D'Addario

    It’s a strangely unbalanced experience. The portions of the show dealing with one man thrust into the highest office in the land and rising to the occasion are practically Capraesque in their vision of a regular American learning to lead on the fly. And yet what lip-service the pilot episode, airing Wednesday night, pays to the actual upheaval that would be going on is dully by-the-numbers. It’s as though the show can’t, or won’t, meaningfully consider the very disaster at the center of its premise.

    Time Full Review
  • Chuck Bowen

    Designated Survivor has potential as an exercise in which Sutherland alternatingly plays Jack Bauer and James Stewart’s eponymous character from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But everything else about the pilot is undistinguished and formulaic.

    Slant Magazine Full Review
  • Josh Bell

    Designated Survivor opens with far too much complicated plotting, and it could easily become a morass of ridiculous developments within a few episodes. There’s promise in Sutherland’s determined, principled leader, but he’s surrounded by too many distractions.

    Las Vegas Weekly Full Review
  • Dave Nemetz

    It’s an instantly gripping premise (previously mined by Battlestar Galactica), but a tricky one to pull off, and Designated Survivor stumbles a bit in the execution.

    TVLine Full Review
  • Allison Keene

    Sutherland himself is cool and charming, but the boilerplate stylings and dialogue leave his character--and the series--uninspired.

    Collider Full Review

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