Is it possible to move on from a tragic situation without it clouding everything you do afterwards? What happens when the past starts to catch up with you? That’s part of the premise behind NBC’s new thriller “State of Affairs,” which had one womans struggling to come to terms with a painful loss when revenge was closer than she ever imagined. The premise showed some promise but the show threatened to be marred by a few too many plot cliches.
“State of Affairs” followed CIA Analyst Charleston “Charlie” Tucker (Katherine Heigl) who was in charge of the President’s daily briefing that consisted of the most recent threats that needed the most immediate attention. She had the opportunity to have the President’s ear based on a very complicated history. Charlie was once engaged to President Constance Payton’s (Alfre Woodard) son David before he was killed in a terrorist attack that Chatlie barely survived herself. She was forced to go through a vicious cycle of working hard and partying harder to forget her fiance’s murder, but it was always at the forefront of her thoughts in everything she did. Charlie also might not have been entirely forthcoming at to what truly happened when her fiance was killed. She was forced to hide her grief when duty called to prepare the briefing, which was often as early as 2 a.m. if the day depended on it. Charlie had to contend with a new arrival of CIA Analyst Lucas Newsome (Adam Kaufman) who might have an agenda of his own. His arrival came at a worst time when it was revealed that the terrorist responsible for David’s death had kidnapped a doctor who looked just like David and was willing execute him if his demands weren’t met. In an effort to not make this mission personal, Charlie hides from the President about who was involved in the kidnapping, but it blew up in her face when the truth was revealed without her permission by a diplomat with questionable motives. With some careful planning, Charlie found out that her suspicions were valid. She didn’t take into account that another secret of hers could come to light when a mysterious stranger started sending her text messages about David’s death and that there was more to what happened than she could possibly know. Will Charlie get to the truth or die trying?
In terms of questions, the show posed quite a few, but the biggest was whether the show could overcome too many comparisons to what “Homeland” achieved in its first two seasons. Sadly, it’s too early to tell whether the show will be able to have the same impact that Showtime’s CIA/terrorist thriller had before it went off the rails in season three. The first episode showed some promised by slowly unveiling the show’s central mystery involving the death of Charlie’s fiance. It also hinted that Charlie might not be the most reliable narrator in the fact that her memories might not tell the whole truth based on the arrival of an old CIA asset/ex-lover who could be the key to answering at least a few questions in the future. Ultimately, the show’s greatest challenge will be finding a way to keep the mission of the week interesting enough to not be overlooked by the show’s strongest on-screen relationship between Woodard’s President and Heigl’s Charlie. Unfortunately, the series premiere failed to generate much interest in the kidnapped doctor storyline other than the fact that the character resembled David. The real surprise came from how Charlie liked to skirt the rules in order to make sure the right thing was done. Hopefully, the show will also sometimes draw the focus away from Charlie once in a while to give the rest of the cast the time to shine, especially Woodard’s President who had very little to do in the premiere beyond being in a stern position of authority. The show could also use some well placed flashbacks to explain key moments from the past rather than having characters talking about event in great detail. The show would be wise to put a back-up plan in place just in the event that the murder mystery story gets wrapped up quicker than expected. That was the fatal mistake that “Homeland” did in season two by rushing a few key storylines that they still haven’t been able to recover from yet. Only time will tell if that’s the same case for this show as well.
As for breakout performances, Woodard and Heigl led the pack as their characters were the driving force behind most of what happened in the series premiere. Woodard’s President was the exact opposite of most television shows who choose a Commander-in-Chief to be a surrogate father figure for the often female main character looking for some advice when their job got to be too tough to handle at times. That’s part of the premise behind CBS’ popular “Madam Secretary,” which works for that show in the long run. That familiar premise wouldn’t work for this show, because Woodard’s President was a strong character who exuded so much power and respect without having to maternal figure. She embodied her version of the President as someone who could govern Americans by day and still be a grieving mother looking for justice when she was in private. Hopefully, the show will give Woodard’s character more to do in upcoming episodes rather than be a distant power figure because she helped to ground the show’s action with a purpose whenever she was on-screen. Woodard’s strongest scene came towards the end of the episode when her character demanded to know from Charlie whenever those responsible for David’s death will pay for the part they played. She expressed so much in that scene without having to fully convey it all. Even though Heigl provided most of the series premieres strongest moments, she had to find a way to work with the show’s writers to hone Charlie’s wildly different personalities in a way to not make it feel like viewers are watching two very different shows. During the day, she was a ruthless CIA analyst who went to extremes to get the job, but she was the exact opposite at night as she had drunken hook-ups as often as possible to forget her grief. Heigl worked best in Charlie’s work life because it forced her to make character someone she wasn’t before on other shows: a force to be reckoned with in the workplace. Charlie’s personal life should be put on the backburner for the time being, until the writers determine what purpose it had for the future of the show and developing Charlie’s character outside of the CIA. Once that happens, the show should be working to make it past season one for the time being.
“State of Affairs” premiered on November 19th and airs Mondays at 10:00 PM on NBC.
Verdict: Heigl and Woodard have a strong dynamic, but the show’s main mystery could use some traction to keep viewers interested.
TV Score: 2 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)