State Of Affairs Series Premiere Review: “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Remember when Homeland was a compelling and intense action thriller and not a ludicrously pale imitation of itself? Well, Pepperidge Farms remembers (that’s a meme), and the creators of State of Affairs remember, too.

On the one hand, State of Affairs shows the nebulous doings of working for a clandestine agency like the CIA, complete with all the internal politics, the interpersonal conflicts and the tough decisions over where and how dedicate resources that come with it. On the other hand though, it’s also a Russian nesting doll of conspiracies and manipulations; who’s playing who, and who’s responsible for the things that figure largely in the overarching plot. Combine that with characters with obvious flaws who are struggling to do right, and you get a show that’s working very hard to be the next Homeland, but, you know, better.

The lightning rod in State of Affairs is Katherine Heigl, who left Grey’s Anatomy under a cloud of “How dare she?” after saying things aloud one too many times the things that everyone else was probably thinking. Sometimes the business isn’t kind to people who don’t have tact, and when you’re the kind of person who cuts to the chase and perhaps does little in the way of self-editing, there are some people that are going to enjoy watching you fall on your face when you’re enjoying some fairly impressive success. None of that is to say that Heigl isn’t a lovely, charming and talented actress, but if Charleston Tucker comes off as unlikable at times, one wonders if Heigl is rubbing her public persona in the face of the haters.

Tucker, sometimes nicknamed Charlie, is a CIA analyst in charge of briefing the President. She works with others at Langley who brief other key members of the cabinet, converging at CIA HQ at 2 ‘o’ clock in the morning to parse down rumors, communiques and other stray bits of intelligence into a Top 10 list of immediate threats to the country. Aside from the additional pressure of briefing the President, Tucker’s living the post-traumatic aftermath of the death of her fiance Aaron in Kabul just one year earlier. Aaron, an international relief worker, was also the only son of Constance Payton (Alfre Woodard), the President of the United States. Whether that’s nepotism or whether Tucker’s just that good, is not really explained.

As per usual in TV, Tucker’s personal issues are realized though what her therapist calls “reckless personal behavior,” meaning excessive drinking and sex with strangers. None of that seems to dull Charlie, who apparently remains hyper-competent in her job, until today’s crisis sees an American doctor in Kenya taken hostage by an ISIS-like group ready and willing to cut off heads in You Tube demonstrations of fidelity to jihad. At the same time, JSOC is close to being in a position to eliminate Omar Abdul Fatah, the man that ordered the attack that killed Aaron. There’s only enough time and resources for one mission, and with intelligence still iffy about Fatah, Tucker recommends the rescue of the doctor to POTUS. Altruism wins out over vengeance. Or does it?