Share this article

print logo

The return of Designated Survivors: Sutherland and Letterman

We're about the find out who took the bullet.

When last we left "Designated Survivor" on ABC, the Wednesday prime time nightmare showed us a rifle trained on an open-air presidential and vice presidential appearance. And then -- cut. A gunshot, followed by audiences hanging off the proverbial cliff.

We're back on the air Wednesday. I'm guessing it's the traitorous veep candidate that took the bullet. All we know for sure is that the president -- played by Kiefer Sutherland as the "designated survivor" of the show's title -- will survive no matter what. Stars don't perish. In show business, star contracts override fictional apocalypses.

Every now and then on Wednesdays, I sit quietly on my couch and just consider what I'm weekly watching on "Designated Survivor" -- a prime-time network fantasy about what happened AFTER a bomb went off in the capitol during a State of the Union address wiping out almost everyone in the place.

President. Vice President. The Senate. Almost all the House of Representatives. The Supreme Court.

Almost everyone.

Except for the "Designated Survivor" provided for in case of calamity by presidential succession -- in this case a HUD Secretary who was about to be be canned by the commander-in-chief because he had too much integrity.

And there's your weekly network TV show -- starring, no less, Sutherland who was charged with keeping all of Western Civilization alive weekly in "24," where his major weapon seemed to be torturing everyone possible and his major antagonist seemed to be his self-obsessed teen daughter who was too stupid to understand that her idiocies were distracting Daddy from his tortuous rounds on behalf of a precariously balanced Western Civilization.

The impossible has happened. The Apocalypse has indeed been "normalized" (as we now call it.) It's how we entertain ourselves on ABC Wednesday nights. And, while we're at it, Thursday nights too when Shonda Rhimes has presidents murdering villainous Supreme Court justices as they lie in hospital beds and president elects are picked off by assassins hired by their veeps.

And where did all the fun of blowing up governments start?

Remember Super Bowl XXX. And the commercial for the 1996 Roland Emmerich movie "Independence Day" in which we saw, for the first time, an alien space ship hover over the White House and blow it to smithereens with a death ray from outer space.

And we laughed. That's entertainment

And now we have a president who is routinely called a Russian puppet on cable TV news and in newspaper columns -- a real one, not a fiction in the tradition of Richard Condon's "The Manchurian Candidate."


Meanwhile, as some of us are gearing up for a prime-time TV fantasy we're hooked on, the Must-Read piece of the year has just shown up in New York Magazine's Vulture Website -- David Marchese's long interview with David Letterman, now wearing his Walt Whitman Mountain Man beard and admitting "this is like visiting day at prison for me."

That's how suddenly talkative he is in it. He has finally, in his isolation and retirement, attracted an interviewer he feels confident enough about to tell the right magazine (an essential in New York's cultural life) all the stuff going through his head these days. And to tell it at length.

He admits that it was Jon Stewart's advent that charged up his own political monologues and beyond. He also blasts his frequent old guest Donald Trump and says "the only person I trust anymore is Al Franken who has a great brain and a great heart. I believe what he says."

This is the long and thorough Letterman piece you've wanted to read since his retirement was announced. Marchese is asking many of the right questions. And Letterman is giving fascinating answers that are candid enough to allude to serious psychological difficulties and medications to quell them.



The death of John Berger (pronounced Bur-Jurr, not Burger, as in Hamburger) on Jan. 2 at the age of 90 ended a fantasy that some of us had -- that one of the greatest living critics and novelists would win the Nobel Prize for literature.

That the Nobel Prize committee bypassed a man whose greatest fame was as an Art Critic on Educational TV to give it to Bob Dylan tells you a lot you need to know about Western Civilization in a world of post-apocalyptic "entertainment." But it hasn't eliminated the passionate admiration so many people had for Berger in his lifetime -- in particular for his book and TV series called "Ways of Seeing," which was, for so many, an intellectual revelation while he was alive.

At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Hallwalls will show "The Seasons: Quincy" in which Tilda Swinton and her husband Colin McCabe put together four short films about Berger into one film portrait of one of the most unusual figures of the 20th and 21st centuries.

A partial understanding of just how feeble a shadow of itself the Nobel Prize for Literature has become can't help but come from seeing this collection of films.

He was a unique figure and was, tragically, precious little known outside England and France, where he lived.


There are no comments - be the first to comment