Third-episode verdict: State of Affairs (US: NBC)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, NBC

Normally, TV shows go up and down from episode to episode on the Barrometer, the world’s finest measurer of TV quality that doesn’t wear sunglasses. Occasionally, they stay the same, but only by consistently offering the same good or bad features that earned them their first rating.

So State of Affairs is a rare beast indeed: a show that changes from episode to episode, giving the viewer new things to think about, yet still being consistently the same on average. It’s enough to make the Barrometer burst into a show tune of surprise.

Starring Katherine Heigl as the double-surnamed Charleston Tucker, a CIA analyst who happens to be the president’s ex-daughter-in-law-to-be (it’s complicated), the first episode surprised almost everyone into singing show tunes with its first episode by being on NBC, starring Katherine Heigl yet not being appalling. In fact, in places, it was quite good.

Since then, the show has managed to kill off some of its stupider features (no one calls Heigl ‘Charleston’ any more; she rarely wears cocktail dresses, not even to see her psychiatrist) while adding in some new ones (stupid potential office romance; stupid husband for the president; James Remar in a stupid hat) and maintaining the status quo on some others (the stupid ongoing conspiracy theory that requires Heigl to nip out of important operations to have chats on park benches). Thus the show has managed to preserve its overall ‘well, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be’ Barrometer rating for three episodes.

Despite the somewhat mixed bag that the first episode presented, the show has now firmly become Homeland lite, with Heigl a network TV Claire Danes with the much more fun ‘drunken promiscuity’ replacing ‘bipolar disorder’ and all her nemeses seemingly coming from Africa rather than the Middle East. Just for luck and a little variety, the show tried to go a bit Tom Clancy by having a Russian nuclear submarine be the subject of episode two (and even referenced The Hunt for Red October for luck), but that wasn’t fooling anyone.

Indeed, the show’s biggest Achilles Heel is its tendency to pluck stories from the headlines for inspiration. While that can work in the right hands, sorting out Boko Haram inside an hour for example verges on the distasteful rather than the inspired.

The show does its best and sometimes succeeds at being a relatively gritty bit of spy fun, despite its protagonists confined to sitting around in rooms talking. This can be done, as The Sandbaggers demonstrated, but it’s hampered by its network, its own superficiality and its pulling of punches. 

Worth watching if you like Heigl and find Homeland to be too frustrating, probably not worth watching if you have much else to do.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Will probably make it to at least a season, perhaps more, with some judicious scheduling, since if it faces any real competition, it’ll probably perish into the firefight