In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, NBC
Katherine Heigl has been a movie star for so long, it’s hard to remember that she made it big on TV first. Sure, she was something of a teen movie doyenne, playing both Steven Seagal and Gerard Depardieu’s daughters in Under Siege 2 and My Father, The Hero respectively, but it was in first Roswell and then Grey’s Anatomy that she really got noticed, before eventually hitting the big time in Knocked Up.
Unlike most of the world, tired of the endless series of identikit rom-coms that have characterised her career since and aware of her ‘difficult’ reputation, I have a lot of time for Heigl. She’s done her best to change the rom-com dynamic, trying to inject some feminism and even some swearing so that women aren’t continually gentrified and oppressed by the genre. But she could certainly do better than 27 Dresses for starters.
Apparently, she thinks so, too, which is why she’s returned to TV to do something completely different: playing a gun-toting CIA analyst in State of Affairs. Something of a melange of everything from Homeland through The Threat Matrix (bet you thought no one would mention that show again), it sees Heigl advising her former mother-in-law-to-be - the US president (Alfre Woodard) - about the top threats facing the United States’ interests around the world, be it abducted doctors in Africa or Islamist terrorists… in Africa. And along the way, she’ll have to face politics, in-fighting, special forces, psychiatrists, security teams and someone who knows her dirty little secret.
And although pretty much every aspect of the show has been put through the NBC low-quality “generification machine”, if you were expecting it to be an epic disaster that would maintain Heigl’s status as a hate figure in the entertainment industry, you’d be surprised, since it’s okay. It’s not great, but compared to what it could have been, it’s a slight eye-opener.
Here’s a trailer.
Each day the president is faced with dozens of life-and-death decisions, and to prioritize the biggest international crises facing the country, one top CIA analyst - Charleston Tucker (Katherine Heigl, "Grey's Anatomy") - assembles the President's Daily Briefing (PDB). This list of the most vital security issues facing the nation brings with it moral and political judgment calls for Charleston and her trusted group of brilliant analysts at the agency. Aside from the political minefields she has to walk, Charlie has a close personal relationship with President Constance Payton (Alfre Woodard, "Desperate Housewives") because she was once engaged to her son before a tragic terrorist attack took his life. Charlie survived that attack and is now determined to bring the perpetrators to justice. Navigating a complex personal life and a pressure-cooker profession is, of course, a challenge, and Charlie sometimes engages in boundary-pushing behavior to avoid facing her grief. But when the clock strikes 2 a.m., she is all about her job - protecting her nation, serving her president and still trying to get to the bottom of her fiancé's murder, which will reveal itself as a shocking mystery.
The cast also includes Adam Kaufman, Sheila Vand, Cliff Chamberlain, Tommy Savas and David Harbour.
Writer-director Joe Carnahan ("The Blacklist") serves as executive producer with Dario Scardapane, Katherine Heigl, Nancy Heigl, Robert Simonds, Sophie Watts, Henry Crumpton, Rodney Faraon and Julia Franz. "State of Affairs" is a production of Universal Television, Bob Simonds Company and Abishag Productions.
Is it any good?
Although one would never mistake it for anything on a par with CBS’s best procedurals, let alone cable’s, compared to most of NBC’s previous efforts at tense action shows (Chase, Undercovers), it’s pretty good and is even a notch or two above the likes of Covert Affairs.
The show is essentially Heigl’s, with a generic ensemble supporting cast exemplified more by their ability to natter convincingly than by their carefully delineated characters. Heigl here shows all the characteristics that made her a TV star and the reformer of the rom-com, with both charisma and strength that make her always worth watching, no matter how dismal the script. Typically, her character pushes the envelope of acceptable feminine behaviour, unrepentantly having drunken one-night stands and dressing down wherever possible.
Unfortunately, at least with this pilot episode, everything else is working against her. It’s hard to believe in her as a CIA analyst when she’s visiting her psychiatrist during the day in a cocktail dress or wearing clothes clearly selected more for their product placement value than because a normal woman on the run from the CIA would wear them. When warned by said psychiatrist that no good will come of drunken promiscuity - judgey McJudgerson, hey? - Heigl does get to defend her behaviour but only by doling out a gem of dialogue, characteristic of the whole show: "Good doesn't have to come. I do.”
While the set design does at least give us a CIA headquarters more typical of the messy Bourne Identity than the more stylised Bourne Supremacy, the direction and editing rob the show and the actors of power. Despite the high octane scenarios, it’s slow. Everything’s epically over-lit. And when Heigl gives us a full-on laugh, we cut in so badly, they might as well have included the director shouting - “Big laugh, Katherine… and action!”
And, of course, we have the doubly ridiculous situation of the CIA’s top analyst not only having been engaged to the president’s son but also being called Charleston Tucker. That’s her name. Despite the order, I can’t tell which is the surname and which the first name.
But despite these obvious problems, the show has some guts. Heigl’s steely enough that despite the poor trappings given to her, you can believe in her as a top CIA analyst and her character is at least interesting. There aren’t the 101 separate plot lines and 27 different characters of something like How To Get Away With Murder to suck away development time and focus from the show.
So given a choice between watching this or the similar but better made Madam Secretary, I’d go with this every time. It’s no Blacklist and were there much viewing competition at this time of year, I doubt I’d watch much more of it, but there’s enough in it that sticking with it for now is a no-brainer.