State of Affairs - Season Pilot

Anyone who remembers the Grey’s Anatomy behind-the-scenes drama of a few years ago won’t exactly be excited for Katherine Heigl’s return to television. NBC decided to take a chance on her anyway with STATE OF AFFAIRS, premiering this week, which has Heigl in the leading role. With some good actors around her, though, and an interesting premise, this series is not half bad, though far from great.

Heigl plays Charleston “Charlie” Tucker, a CIA Analyst responsible for assembling and delivering the president’s daily briefing. Charlie is haunted by her past, though, suffering PTSD from witnessing her fiance’s death in the Middle East, leading to copious drinking and erratic sexual decisions in her off-hours, before somehow still managing to be a put-together woman at work, doing her job well, even at 2AM. Will this catch up with her? Or might her therapist, whom she resents having to see, eventually be able to help her work through her issues?

STATE OF AFFAIRS does suffer from an abundance of coincidence and believability-stretching elements. The president whom Charlie serves is Constance Payton (Alfre Woodard, Desperate Housewives, Star Trek: First Contact), who just happens to be Charlie’s dead fiance’s mother. Constance is bent on revenge for her son, which makes one wonder how she manages to stay in office and be a good leader as the first black female POTUS. There’s also a mystery surrounding the day of the death about which Charlie is repressing memories. This all feels a little too contrived to me.

Charlie’s team is equally preposterous, eagerly standing by her at the risk of their own jobs, without pausing to consider what might happen to them. Even if they like her, they shouldn’t be so willing to jump off a cliff for her, at least not without agonizing over the decision.

Charlie has a scene in the pilot in which she defies her boss in order to do a noble thing, putting the life of a doctor captured by terrorists ahead of petty vengeance. This is supposed to establish Charlie has a genuine hero, but instead, drags STATE OF AFFAIRS down. For one, why do TV shows always have to have one person who ignores authority because they inherently know the right thing, proving themselves better than everyone else? For another, why would a briefer have the power Charlie has to affect events?

Yet, I still want to watch this show. One big reason for that is because it is a political drama. I love the machinations of politics, various factions battling one another for power on the national stage. There are many shows that have done it a lot better and more authentic than STATE OF AFFAIRS; The West Wing and House of Cards spring to mind, or even Scandal. But there is still some draw that this show has in that arena.

For another, besides Woodard, whom I enjoy, the show has David Harbour (The Newsroom, Manhattan) as Chief of Staff David Patrick and several familiar guest actors sure to be recurring. These performers are entertaining to watch and raise the show a bit above Heigl’s expected quality.

STATE OF AFFAIRS does have the afore-mentioned personal component in Heigl’s character, but unlike new CBS stinker Madam Secretary, doesn’t allow it to make the show melodramatic or whiny. The scenes outside of the work place are well used to add depth to the character, but not the meat of each episode. Hopefully, it stays that way.

STATE OF AFFAIRS is popcorn in the way 24 was. It gets the adrenaline pumping and it’s fun to watch, but it’s never going to win any awards for being the best acting or writing on television. For my money, that’s good enough for now, and compared to a very weak crop of fellow freshman dramas this fall, this one is certainly one of the better recent entries on the broadcast networks.

STATE OF AFFAIRS premieres Monday, November 17th at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.