It was pretty obvious to everyone that Katherine Heigl wasn’t done with starring in television shows, and her first post-Grey’s Anatomy project is one that rivals the former series in its overly dramatic tone and self-important approach. NBC’s political thriller State of Affairs isn’t quite the mega-disaster that the previews had me ready for, but this pilot can be summed up in the following quote, delivered directly to Heigl’s CIA analyst Charleston Tucker.
”You don’t make policy. The President of the United States does!”
Charlie Tucker is responsible for the Daily Briefing of the President (who is played with the expected grace of Alfre Woodard) and nobody gets the best of Charlie Tucker. Except for the people who did; namely, the terrorists that attacked the convoy transporting her and her fiancé Aaron (Mark Tallman), the latter of whom was killed in the attack. Charlie is haunted by this event, and it’s for more reasons than you might expect when flashbacks are shown at the beginning of the episode.
She starts receiving mysterious text messages straight out of I Know What You Did Last Summer, which hint at something from her past that she’s hiding from everyone. But she doesn’t have time to deal with her own personal demons; Charlie’s got to find something to fill the Daily Briefing Book! You think you have something good enough for The Book? It’s not good enough for The Book!
The episode’s bizarre events involve the possible location reveal of the guy responsible for Charlie’s attack. It coincides with a terrorist squad kidnapping a British guy and an American that looks like Aaron, which is something the episode hints at a lot but doesn’t really do anything with. It’s up to Charlie to figure things out. No wait, it’s not up to Charlie to make those decisions! I’m not even sure how director Joe Carnahan (The Grey) wants audiences to see Charlie. Heigl plays her as defiant and cocksure, but it seems like her character is meant to be more layered than that. A lot of this awkwardness could get worked out immediately when Episode 2 starts, but that’s the problem with only having encountered the pilot.
As far as the supporting cast goes, there isn’t much more involved than meets the eye. Charlie has a team of fellow Book-keepers that she barks at in different volumes, as played by Adam Kaufman, Tommy Savas, Sheila Vand, and Cliff Chamberlain. David Harbour plays the President’s mildly hardnosed Chief of Staff, and Chris McKenna shows up in a secretive role. Honestly, the most interesting bit of acting this episode had in it was Katherine Heigl laughing while drunk.
Once you get past the idea that State of Affairs is just Homeland running on fumes, it’s even easier to recognize that this pilot is just a barrage of stereotypes that all admittedly fit together well enough to justify their combined existence. There are a couple of darkly comedic jokes (and even a sexually explicit one) that I liked genuinely, and an “important” scene where people tore paper up to a Nine Inch Nails soundalike, which I liked ironically. It is very ridiculous and doesn’t ever portray legitimate danger, but it’s not so terrible that it should fail immediately. Somebody out there is going to fall in line with Katherine Heigl’s brand of tough-titty authority, but I can’t say this pilot was enough to sway me.
State of Affairs debuts on NBC on Monday, November 17 at 10 p.m. ET. Head to the next page for a trailer.