December 2, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 2 Review: “State of Affairs”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on STATE OF AFFAIRS:  Charleston–call her Charlie–Tucker (Katherine Heigl) is the CIA analyst whose task it is to put together the President’s Daily Briefing book that gives POTUS Constance Payton (Alfre Woodard) her rundown on the immediate foreign threats affecting the US.  Charlie and the President are also bound by the fact that Charlie was the fiancee of the President’s son, who was killed in Afghanistan in an incident that may have been part of a larger conspiracy.

Episode 2:  State of Affairs is proving to be deadly in all the wrong ways.  Even though the project was developed by Katherine Heigl as Executive Producer for the purpose of providing herself with a starring vehicle, the role allows the actress to do none of what made her a TV (and briefly, movie) star in the first place–especially after the pilot was toned down from its original version to minimize Charlie’s self-destructive drinking and sexuality.  (Those were borrowed from Homeland‘s Carrie Mathison, but at least they were something.)  Instead, Charlie just looks grim and earnest as she stares at monitors, always knowing the right thing to do.

State has already undergone a great deal of creative tumult, with series creator Alexi Hawley and original showrunner Edward Bernero both departing and Executive Producer Joe Carnahan taking over, so it’s possible that if the show lasts long enough, eventually it will hit some kind of equilibrium.  3 episodes in, it’s nowhere near that point.  Carnahan’s involvement was supposed to bring some kind of The Blacklist branding to the project, since he’s given credit for a lot of that show’s successful feel, but State has nothing to substitute for James Spader’s charisma, and the central mystery it’s trying to build feels thin and uncompelling.

The show’s 2d episode was disrupted by sports and news interruptions, making a return visit to its 3rd more fair, but this hour was even worse.  The script credited to Co-Executive Producer Kim Clements made almost no sense even in the context of the series premise, and while the pilot (directed by Carnahan) at least had some high-octane action, this outing, directed by Sarah Pia Anderson, was much duller.  The crisis-of-the-week wasn’t one directly affecting the US at all; instead, Charlie was so personally affected by the sad tale of Nigerian rebels kidnapping a girls’ soccer team that she took it on herself to convince the President to allow her to conduct a clandestine operation using outside mercenaries to retrieve the girls with the help of the President of China, who happened to be in DC on a diplomatic visit, and without the new CIA Director even being in the loop on what was going on.  There’s escapist entertainment–Madam Secretary certainly stretches the bounds of what a Secretary of State could conceivably do, and it would be foolish to even try to comprehend the goings-on on Scandal–and then there’s just nonsense.

The ridiculous plotting might be acceptable if State of Affairs were at least fun, but it’s not.  An attempt to give Charlie a potentially dangerous new romantic interest in a CIA operative (Chris McKenna) who might be linked to her fiancee’s death couldn’t be more cardboard, and the other characters who put together each day’s top-brass security briefings barely exist.  James Remar shows up periodically as an ex-Agency mentor who might as well be Charlie’s fairy godfather, and Woodard maintains her dignity in a role that doesn’t give her much.  But the more professionally assured and knowledgeable Heigl tries to appear, the more uncomfortable it is for us and seemingly even for her.

State of Affairs is an important show for NBC, because it’s the hinge on the network’s big midseason strategy, meant to hold down the post-Voice fort on Mondays so that The Blacklist can establish an outpost on Thursday nights.  After a fair debut, State plunged in the ratings on its second airing, and it remains to be seen whether that was a matter of circumstances or audience rejection.  If the latter hasn’t occurred yet, though, its hard to imagine it’s far off, unless the show shows a sharp and quick improvement.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else is On…

PILOT + 1:  Code Red


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."