Designated Survivor (the Equivalent of a Christian Movie for the Resistance)

Designated Survivor (the Equivalent of a Christian Movie for the Resistance) December 9, 2018

 Great entertainment will often contain a message, but it takes great entertainment to do the job well. Hacks who try to send a message end up making a mess that is neither entertaining nor helpful for the message.

Handel gave us the Messiah and that was wonderful, but the 1980s’s gave us the Young Messiah and that was wonderfully woeful. Christians need not despair, everyone makes this mistake. Genius can do two things at once (entertain and educate), the rest of us should pick and stick to what we do well.

Just as Dan Barker makes the faithful feel better about cheesy Christian music, after all, we still have Bach, so Designated Survivor is Left Behind for the resistance: secular apocalyptic comfort entertainment. A Christian ashamed of feel-better first-word agitprop from the Church need only watch this show to know: everyone is guilty of making bad entertainment when they feel insecure.

Designated Survivor is propotainment, progressive propaganda as entertainment. There are moments of interest and who does not long for a President who reads books, loves the arts, and has adorable children? The show gives us such a President, facing cartoon capitalists (“We will keep our drugs and let people die!”) and preaching sermons with portentous pauses.

Donald Trump is President, so those of us who did not vote for him (as I did not) evidently need Kiefer Sutherland as an alternate reality President to intone Clinton bromides. An amusing family game has become guessing what conventional wisdom he will spout in any given scene. Sutherland has a Shatner-like delivery without any of Shatner’s passion: staccato delivery without moving his mouth.

If I do not mention the rest of the “actors,” it is because they are either forgettable or forgotten by the writers. The First Lady and the President’s children disappear when not needed. Perhaps the most implausible action hero on television is played by Maggie Q, invincible while runnng down baddies in high heels and three or four facial expressions.

This should have been a five episode television program, something the BBC might have made interesting, but is grinding into the second season because Americans super size all. The initial premise is interesting, if horrifying, Right-wing terrorists manage to wipe out Congress, the Supreme Court, and the entire executive branch. The entire government sometimes meets, say in the State of the Union, and could in theory be wiped out in one terrorist attack. To avoid this there is a designated survivor: some cabinet member (often low ranking) kept in safety.

You can guess the rest. You can guess the dialog using the same technique my students use to ace teacher’s exams: just guess what a left-of-center forty something thinks is common sense. The show is a bit dated as the liberalism is more Clinton or Obama, less Occasio-Cortez. Perhaps that is the “middle ground” the writers think fictive President Kirkwood has found: triangulation between Susan Collins, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders.

Temptation exists to watch the rest to find out what happens. Start at your own peril.


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