Designated Survivor

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Designated Survivor TV Poster Image
Popular with kids
Tense, dramatic series explores a political nightmare.

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 72 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 26 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Government officials are dedicated and hardworking; sensitive viewers may be disturbed by discussions of nuclear war and terrorism. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Tom Kirkman is a principled man who tries to do the best with the big job thrust upon him. 


Shots of a giant explosion that kills the president and his whole administration as well as rubble and a burning capitol building; an official threatens to rip colleagues' "insides out" if they disobey his orders; an upset man vomits; discussion of nuclear war, military aggression, and terrorism. 


Kissing, flirting, dating. A married couple snuggles and jokes about sex in bed. 


Mild profanity: "asses," "hell." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Of-age characters drink wine at a bar; a teen character refers to selling "bags" at a club. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Designated Survivor is a political drama about a government official who becomes president after a deadly attack. Scenes are set in the aftermath of an explosion, with buildings in cinders and fire; there are no bodies, blood, or gore. Expect acts of military aggression and discussion of nuclear war. Mild profanity includes "hell" and "asses." A teen character sells bags of an unnamed drug in a club; adults drink wine in a bar. On the mildly educational side, viewers may learn new things about the workings of the American government, including how items get added to a president's agenda, presidential succession, and how bills are passed. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMARGARET2019 June 9, 2019

WHY???? What happened to season 3?

We discovered the show on Netflix and love, love, loved it. UNTIL season 3. Why did the language go from acceptable to crap. Seriously ?!? For once I thought... Continue reading
Adult Written bynacu June 7, 2019

Season 3 gets netflix-ized

Seasons 1 and 2 are a lot of fun. Definitely some violence, mild language, but overall family friendly. But season 3, as a Netflix exclusive, included a half do... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byWardieBeast December 3, 2017


Designated Survivor is truly amazing. It is incredibly captivating, fast paced and fun. It has one main story line over both seasons (who blew up the Capital -... Continue reading

What's the story?

Yesterday, Tom Kirkman (Kiefer Sutherland) was the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and about to be demoted to an ambassadorship. Today, he's President Tom Kirkman -- the DESIGNATED SURVIVOR who must assume the presidency after an explosion kills the president, vice president, cabinet, and Congress. There's not much left of the U.S. government, and everyone around Tom has doubts about his ability to lead: his speechwriter Seth (Kal Penn), his chief of staff (Italia Ricci), and even his otherwise loving wife, Alex (Natascha McElhone). Tom didn't ask for this role, and the whole world is watching America to see what happens next. 

Is it any good?

Stuffed -- maybe overstuffed -- with dramatic plot points, this political series has plenty of potential and will appeal to fans of 24 and The West Wing. Other viewers' opinions of this show will depend upon their tolerance/love of scenes in which characters sit in a room having tense conversations about treason and speech-writing. Certainly the show's central premise has zing: After Kirkman learns he's to be thrust into the national spotlight, he's dragged to the White House and into a press conference within an hour. The camera slows down, voices echo. It's a nightmarish place to be, one viewers can easily imagine. 

Parents who are political buffs may enjoy watching Designated Survivor with teens, as plot twists about terrorism and plotting officials may spark conversations about the ways in which our government operates; a storyline revolving around an FBI agent (Maggie Q) investigating the attack may inspire not-as-comfortable conversations about terrorism. And a subplot on the Kirkhams' teen son, Leo (Tanner Buchanan), who sells something in little bags at D.C. clubs, may make both parents and teens a wee bit uncomfortable. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Designated Survivor's premise. Is it realistic? Is there really such a thing as a designated survivor? 

  • How does this show make you feel about the way government and politics operate? 

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

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