‘Designated Survivor’ follows Thomas Adam “Tom” Kirkman, an American politician who is named as the designated survivor for the State of the Union address. He is put in a particularly tense position when he has to vacate the position of U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to be appointed as the President of the United States after an explosion that kills everyone ahead of him in the presidential line of succession.
The show chronicles his efforts to cope up with his inexperience as head of state while looking to uncover the truth behind the attack. ‘Designated Survivor’ premiered in 2016, and has received positive reviews for the performances and writing. The show balances the personal challenges of the protagonist with professional hardships. For this article, I have taken into account shows that hold narrative characteristics similar to this one. So, without further ado, here’s the list of best shows similar to ‘Designated Survivor’ that are our recommendations. You can watch several of these series like ‘Designated Survivor’ on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime
10. Scandal (2012–2018)
Created by Shonda Rhimes, ‘Scandal’ follows Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, a former White House Communications Director who starts her own crisis management firm. In that endeavour, she comes to realize her clients are not the only ones with secrets. The show explores the intricacies of one of the most infamous aspects of America’s political administration, i.e. scandals. ‘Scandal’, which premiered on ABC in 2012, consists of seven seasons, with the last airing in 2018. The show has received positive reviews for its concept, writing and performances.
9. Boss (2011–2012)
Created by Iranian American screenwriter Farhad Safinia, ‘Boss’ follows Mayor Tom Kane as he rises up the ranks of political muscle in Chicago, but he has one big challenge – he is diagnosed with dementia with Lewy bodies. The show masterfully develops the political intrigue with the protagonist’s personal challenges which intersect, creating a gripping narrative. While the writing structures the narrative with coherency, the cast makes it an immensely fetching storyline. The show premiered in 2011 and consists of two seasons. Though the first season’s quality often dipped in a couple of episodes, the second season is brilliantly crafted, for which it earned a rating of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. The show won a couple of nominations in its run of two seasons. Kelsey Grammer, who essays the role of Tom Kane, won the “Best Actor — Television Series Drama” and the Golden Globe in 2012. The show itself was nominated for a “Best Television Series — Drama” in the same year.
8. Homeland (2011-)
While ‘Homeland’ is primarily categorised as a spy thriller, it has seamlessly transited into essentially becoming a political thriller. The show has been adapted by writers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa from Israeli filmmaker Gideon Raff’s drama series ‘Prisoners of War’ (2010-2012). ‘Homeland’ follows Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, CIA operative who suffers from bipolar disorder. Her paranoia leads her to become convinced that a prisoner of war has been turned by al-Qaeda and is now planning to carry out a terrorist attack on America. The first two seasons of the show are masterfully written, directed and performed, but it saw a dip in the quality in further seasons, for which it has received some criticism. Nonetheless, ‘Homeland’ is an engaging political thriller and is sure to engage the viewers.
7. Show Me a Hero (2015)
Adapted from Lisa Belkin’s book of the same name, which was published in 1999, ‘Show Me a Hero’ follows Nick Wasicsko, a Mayor in Yonkers, New York. The show chronicles the white middle-class neighbourhood’s resistance to the federally mandated scattered-site public housing development in the city, and the kind of role Wasicso plays in it. The show provided a microscopic view of the story, which is credited to the cerebral writing by David Simon and journalist William F. Zorzi. Oscar Isaac does well in getting into the skin of the character which helps in raising the dramatic tension all the more, for which he won a Golden Globe for “Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film”.
6. The Good Wife (2009-2016)
Often cited as the “last great drama” by many critics, ‘The Good Wife’ has been consistent throughout its run of seven seasons. Co-created by Robert King and Michelle King, the political-legal drama follows Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick, a woman who also always been a “good wife” to her husband, who is a former state’s attorney. However, she has to climb the ranks of the legal professional when he is caught in sex and corruption scandal and is put behind bars. Alicia now has to balance the family life and also handle responsibilities of being a litigator in a law firm. The show intrinsically weaves its narrative with the perceptive view of society, politics, and law. It has been a critical favourite and has never dipped in its quality throughout the seven seasons.
5. Borgen (2010-2013)
A Danish political drama series, ‘Borgen’ follows Birgitte Nyborg’s rise to the pinnacle of the political world and becoming the prime minister. Created by screenwriter Adam Price, the show chronicles and maps the fictitious political climate along the lines of the political scenario of Denmark. In addition, the narrative infuses subdued drama with seat clenching thrills. The show premiered in 2010 and spans over three seasons. The series has been nominated for a couple of awards such as two “Best International” awards at the BAFTAs, winning one and one Peabody Award, to name a few. With the short number seasons consisting of just ten episodes, ‘Borgen’ is a good and compact watch.
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4. The Honourable Woman (2014)
A British political spy thriller miniseries, ‘The Honourable Woman’ stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as Nessa Stein, a woman who inherits her father’s arms business. With this, she finds herself in the midst of international turbulence as she promotes the reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. Witten and directed by Hugo Blick, the show is compact and compressed which makes the viewing experience even better. Gyllenhaal wins hearts with her impressive performances as the charismatic and dominant Nessa Stein. The show received rave reviews at the time of its run, with Gyllenhaal and Blick receiving the most praise. The actress received the “Best Performance by an Actress in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television” at the Golden Globes. The show itself won four nominations at the Primetime Emmy Awards.
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3. The West Wing (1999-2006)
Debuting on NBC in 1999, ‘The West Wing’ has spanned over seven glorious seasons. Created by the dazzling Aaron Sorkin, the show is built upon his unparalleled writing expertise. A serial political drama, the show is in the titular west wing of the White House and follows the lives of its staffers during the fictitious Democratic administration of Josiah Bartlet. The show, apart from its aforementioned cohesive narrative, delves deep into the political ideologies which make the viewing such a realistic and hard-hitting experience. ‘The West Wing’ has been considered as a pioneering work in establishing the political tone for new shows to come. The critical success of the show earned it a number of accolades, namely an Emmy for “Outstanding Drama Series” in 2000, two Peabody Awards and three Golden Globe Awards.
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2. The Crown (2016 – )
A historical drama, ‘The Crown’ chronicles the pervading political rivalries and life during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and the events that shaped the second half of the 20th century. The show is created by Peter Morgan whose writing credits included excellent works such as ‘The Queen’ (2006), ‘The Damned United’ (2009) and ‘Rush’ (2013). Morgan’s vision helps craft one of the most interesting events of one of the most powerful leaders of all time.
The writing is then complimented by the performances Claire Foy as Princess Elizabeth, Matt Smith as Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburg and Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret. ‘The Crown’ has had two great seasons and the creators have already announced two new seasons which would feature new actors in the roles. The show won the “Best Television Series – Drama” at the Golden Globes in 2017 and each of the seasons has earned 89% and 91% on Rotten Tomatoes respectively.
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1. House of Cards (2013-2018)
Adapted from the British miniseries of the same name which ran in 1990, ‘House of Cards’ is a wildly intriguing political thriller. The show is the set in the busy Washington, D.C. and follows Frank Underwood, a Democrat from South Carolina’s 5th congressional district and House Majority Whip and his equally ambitious wife Claire Underwood. When he is passed over for appointment as Secretary of State, Underwood, alongside his wife, starts plotting an elaborate plan to attain power and domination.
The show is steered into brilliance by the dazzling performances of Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. Aiding them is the solid writing which explores the themes of politics, power, greed and manipulation. The show premiered on Netflix and was one of the first productions to make Netflix a household name. ‘House of Cards’ went on to win thirty-three Primetime Emmy Award nominations, eight Golden Globe Award nominations and holds an average rating of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes.
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