The Anatomy of Why I Stop Watching a Show: Designated Survivor

Like most of us, I don’t have a lot of time to devote to watching television.  Therefore, a show has to be particularly compelling for me to want to stick with it through an entire season.  I’ll try a new show now and again, but if I’m not excited about it after two or three episodes, I’ll unceremoniously drop it.  The most recent show I’ve stopped watching due to this line of thinking is ABC’s Designated Survivor.

Here’s the thing, Designated Survivor isn’t a flat out awful show.  We’re not talking about the pompous “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” here or any of the hundreds of one season and done programs that have come and gone over the years.  The ratings have been solid and the critical reception has been better than most series.  So why, then, did I quit after three episodes?  Here are four reasons:

1. Network Shows and Episode Number

Cable and streaming shows usually have about 10-12 episodes per season.  Even if you have lukewarm feelings about a particular show, it’s not that hard to push through and at least give the entire first season a shot.  For example, Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” quickly devolved into a despair laden slog after it ran out of material from the original Philip K. Dick novel.  Still, I watched the entire season because I was already four or five episodes in and seeing if the show got better (it didn’t) wasn’t that big of a time investment, especially during the Holidays when many shows are on hiatus.

Twenty-two episodes is a lot of time, so an hour-long network drama has a higher bar to meet in order to grab my attention.

2. Bland and Cliched Characters

Look, I know Kiefer Sutherland and Kal Penn are good actors.  The characters they play in Designated Survivor do not make much use of their talents.  In fact, all of the characters on Designated Survivor are essentially paint-by-numbers character sketches with no real depth or motivation beyond responding to the twists and turns of the show’s plot.  Since the show is not a “crime of the week” procedural, it needs stronger, deeper characters to sustain several-episode long story-lines.

For example, Sutherland’s President Kirkman is given extremely little backstory before the big “boom.”  The plot sucks so much of the oxygen out of the room that it becomes difficult to care about him or his story.  It also doesn’t help that, despite Surtherland’s best efforts, Kirkman comes across as wishy-washy and boring.

3. The Premise

At first glance, “everyone dies and now the last guy on the list is president” isn’t a bad hook.  The problem with this is that it raised the stakes of the plot to such an absurd height that once the initial rush of the pilot episode is over, nothing else really compares.  Who cares about office politics or family problems when the entire government has been destroyed?

4. Too Many Sub-Plots

Finally, the show just tries to do too many things, and thereby does none of them particularly well.  There’s the whodunit story-line about the bombing itself.  There’s the political story-line.  There’s the family story-line.  None of them get enough breathing room in the first three episodes to be as compelling as they could be, so they all come off as dull.

In conclusion, if anyone watching Designated Survivor finds that it gets any better, let me know.  If not, meh, I’ll watch something else.

(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe