Now that it’s a Netflix show, as opposed to “a show that’s on Netflix”, Designated Survivor would like you to know things are different. Former workaholic/not-a-traitor (I mean, as if) Emily is now unemployed, moping about in Florida and apparently making a cameo appearance in the unofficial sequel to The Birds (The Birds 2: Revenge of the Humans? No?). So the new Chief of Staff is Dr Greene from ER, with added Secret Pain and prickliness. “Political Director” Lyor has vanished, as if he was never there in the first place. New campaign manager Lorraine is an alcoholic with a secret gigolo habit. (Or should that be “Secret Gigolo Habit”? Whatever. I don’t suppose it’ll be “Secret” for very long.) Aaron is still National Security Advisor but with added new girlfriend whose chief function is to neg him for being a “bad Latino”. (I very much doubt this show can handle this type of storyline well, but we’ll see.) Seth is also thinking about matters of heritage and identity, albeit his attempt to track down his birth parents comes to a somewhat abrupt end – he doesn’t seem too bothered. Agent Q has wisely rid herself of the teenage hanger-on she acquired at the end of last season, the better to concentrate on being fired by the FBI – now run by people who, unlike poor Reed Diamond, don’t appreciate her “can do” attitude to rule-breaking – and being hired by the CIA to carry on being in a different show from the rest of the main cast (except possibly the Birds, given Q’s “bioterror” mandate and its likely connection to the final scene). And everyone is swearing! Swearing, swearing, swearing – even Little P, who would like her dad to STOP calling her Little P because maybe she reads this blog, I don’t know, but either way she’s realised “Little P” is embarrassing and she can’t answer to that and swear at the same time, unless she suddenly releases a rap album.
What of President Jack Bauer, though? Well, uh…. Designated Survivor doesn’t want you to think it’s that different, so PJB is really just the same. People keep pretending he’s “unmoored” because Emily’s not around, and his delight at her return does make me wonder for the first time if Jed might actually get the PJBemily affair he’s been hoping for since episode 1 of season 1. Whether that happens or not, though, the truth is PJB still has the same basic storyline he always has: he loses his cool and does whatever he feels like because he’s a “Man of the People” who doesn’t like politics; the big bogeyman tag-team of mainstream press and politicians criticise him for it; and the “real” people love him because he’s so “real”. Hm. You know exactly which world leaders and wannabes have been using this playbook in real life over the past few years, and their politics are markedly different from PJB’s, but the idea is, of course, that PJB is using them for good. Which would be fine and all, if he could get enough big bad politicians, or even any good ones (bye Darby!), to work with him. Oops.
By the end of the episode, though, things are apparently looking up for the Bauer Administration and its re-election prospects. The band are back together, new Communications Director Seth having correctly pointed out to Emily that the writers are “creating new jobs around here” all the time (I don’t know if it was meant to be quite so meta or even a joke at all, but I laughed) so there’s no barrier to her getting back on the Bauer bus. New, uh, “Hashtag Director”(ok, I made that up, but that’s what the dude does) Dontae revitalises PJB’s election campaign with the, er, power of the hashtag. And the show thinks it’s come up with a new take on Let Bartlet be Bartlet, but it just makes the old one look even better. This try-hard but lacklustre opening episode suggests that the change to Netflix hasn’t changed what was fundamentally wrong with the show last season. It’s still trying to be The West Wing, and it’s still no good at it.