The heroine of State of Affairs, Charleston Tucker (Katherine Heigl), is the Best at What She Does. That job happens to be analyzing security threats against the United States of America and recommending possible responses in her daily briefing to the president, played by Alfre Woodard (who is unparalleled at projecting super competence without having much of a character to play). Charleston is also Troubled because she lost her fiancé, a special forces soldier, in Afghanistan a year ago and has been drinking and screwing her way toward oblivion ever since. This NBC series, which debuts tonight at 10 p.m., of course wants you to wonder if she will rise to meet whatever occasion happens to appear before her, or get pulled down into a vortex of debauchery. She’s basically George Clooney’s character on ER, but in the White House and with presidential briefing papers instead of scalpels or something, and haven’t we seen enough shows like this?
As Charleston, Heigl is classy, competent, and handles the jargon well. You believe her when she’s falling apart and when she’s at her best. Unfortunately, network television is filled with dramas that require actresses to play this kind of character (not unlikable, just going through a bad patch), and many of them are moderately to vastly superior to this one. The show is modestly exciting, at the very least watchable, and has network-quality production values, though no discernible filmmaking personality to speak of. Prime-time television is also filled with series that fit that description. The supporting cast is filled with the sorts of actors that you’re always glad to see and will always root for. But again, ditto: Where are the surprises?
I’d rather watch reruns of The West Wing or 24 or season one of Homeland. I suppose State of Affairs could blossom into something great, but there’s nothing tantalizing in this debut outing, no reason to keep watching. Except optimism. I wouldn’t get too attached to this show.