Netflix’s Designated Survivor: 60 Days stars Ji Jin-hee as Park Moo-jin, the South Korean government’s minister of the environment who finds himself thrust into the role of presidency when the National Assembly building in Seoul blows up. If that sounds familiar, that’s probably because it’s a K-drama remake of the US series of almost the same name.
A good portion of the country’s government officials are killed when a bomb goes off during a televised meeting in the National Assembly. Moo-jin, as the highest authority alive, is hastily sworn in as the interim president for the two months before a general election can be held.
Like Kiefer Sutherland’s Thomas Kirkman, Moo-jin is not really ready to play the political game, which makes him the perfect vehicle for viewers to learn what might happen in a high-stakes situation like the ones the characters find themselves in.
They both lack personal ambition and political savvy, which in TV-land means they’re perfect for a leadership role as they’re able to assess a situation without being clouded by personal bias.
When a North Korean submarine, for example, is found in South Korean waters, the military leaders press on Moo-jin immediately to attack their neighbours and bring about a state of war. The interim president, however, uses his knowledge of geography and the environment to come up with a peaceful solution. Kirkman does something very similar in Designated Survivor when he negotiates a peaceful end to tensions with Iran after the Iranian Navy moves ships into a body of water in an act of provocation.
Like the original American series, Designated Survivor: 60 Days has two main characters to follow. Moo-jin, and Han Na-kyung (Kang Han-na). Na-kyung is a National Intelligence Service agent (think the CIA in America, or MI5 in Britain), who becomes invested in trying to find out the culprit behind the explosion. Na-kyung has a personal stake in this as her fiancé died in the bombing. The only difference to the original is that Maggie Q’s FBI agent Hannah Wells discovers the married man with whom she’d been having an affair has died.
There’s also a speechwriter in both (played by Lee Joon-hyuk in the remake, and Kal Penn in the original) that unknowingly trash-talks the interim president to the interim president in a bathroom. Chances are, Oh Young-seok will quickly become a supporter of Moo-jin in the same way that Seth Wright did Kirkman.
Jin-hee is pretty believable in his role as Moo-jin - he is as confused and as caught-off guard as a person in his role ought to be, but also sharp and clever enough that you’d (in theory) trust your country in his hands.
From the few episodes that have been released so far, Designated Survivor: 60 Days looks like an-almost scene-for-scene remake of the US series - allowing for cultural differences. However, with a run of 16 episodes, the Korean version will likely keep the pace fast and hurtling towards a hopefully satisfactory conclusion.
Everything is, thankfully, tightly shot and edited, which helps add a sense of urgency to the scenes. Although it’s not quite edge-of-your-seat thrilling, it’s enough that your attention doesn’t wander during an episode.
There are a few heavy-handed moments of foreshadowing that are entirely unnecessary, such as when the president literally gives Moo-jin a pair of his shoes to step into (come on!) but, on the whole, we’re looking forward to watching the rest of the story unfold - all the more so now that fans of the original still don’t know if they’ll get a Season Four or not.