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TV Recap: State of Affairs, Pilot

What we liked—and didn't—about NBC's new CIA drama.

Meet Charleston Tucker, CIA briefer extraordinaire. Image via NBC.

Welcome to another television drama centered on a high-powered Washington woman with a stressful job and a complicated personal life. The latest iteration centers on CIA analyst Charleston “Charlie” Tucker, who’s responsible for putting together a daily briefing on situations around the globe to advise the President (Alfre Woodard)—who was at one point going to be her mother-in-law, until Charlie’s fiancé, Aaron, was killed in front of her on a trip to Afghanistan. As if that’s not all, Charlie’s temporary boss is out to get her, possibly with the help of a hunky (though kinda old) new member of her team, and Charlie’s got some PTSD-related repression about what really happened the night her fiancé died. Rather than recap the entire plot, I’m just going to break it down into what I liked and what could use some work.

Alfre Woodard. I would watch her do a dramatic reading of the ingredients in a Twinkie—even without an intermission—so I’m already enjoying all the shades she brings to her “First Customer” Constance Payton. Also good: The show chooses not to get too bogged down in the fact that there is a female President in favor of focusing on her complicated relationship with Katherine Heigl’s Charleston. Plus she wears flats in the Oval Office, which is a nod to practicality that I appreciate.

The team. The pacing could be a bit quicker in the scenes where Charlie and her team put together the PDB, but they’ve got an enjoyable rapport, especially when uniting against new guy/potential rat Lucas.

The violence. It’s gritty and shocking in a way that really conveys the stakes (especially a video of a prisoner being beheaded that shows just enough to be highly uncomfortable). The scene in which JSOC rescues the doctor was pretty elegantly done, too, all night-vision green and eerie score.

The long-term arcs. The pilot sets up two stories with potential for longevity: The CIA’s quest to bring down Abdul Fattah, and a conspiracy plot involving an attempt on her life that her fiancé may or may not have been a part of. I’m interested in finding out more about at least one of those!

Charleston Tucker. I actually liked a fair amount of Katherine Heigl’s performance. She conveys a certain amount of brittle discomfort—laughing too loudly, forcing small talk—that speaks to her damaged psyche, but when she’s supposed to be warm and approachable, it rings a bit false. I much prefer her when she’s sassing her superiors and making tough decisions sans hesitation.

Acting Director Skinner. He’s a caricatured villain whose quest to discredit Charlie lacks even a drop of subtlety. Lucas (Adam Kaufman, a.k.a. Parker from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) makes a much more interesting potential foe, though his lovely blue eyes probably mean he’s headed for Love Interest Land sooner rather than later.

The over-emphasized plot points. State of Affairs seems to be afraid viewers won’t be able to follow what it’s trying to do, so it resorts to having characters echo one another: The captured doctor looks like Aaron! Aaron was Charlie’s fiancé! Aaron was the President’s son! Aaron died in Afghanistan! By the way, Charlie, did you notice that doctor looks like your dead fiancé? Hopefully with more time the show will get out of its own way and let the action speak for itself.

Charlie’s “coping mechanisms.” Southern-fried name aside, you can practically hear the elevator speech about the character: “Think Carrie Mathison—so, like, all the sex and alcohol, but not the medication—with Olivia Pope’s wardrobe.” The show needs to find a more original direction to take the character.

Sid. He may not have a beard, but this character is clearly State of Affairs’ answer to Saul Berenson, available exactly when Charlie needs him and delivering lines like “You owe me, kid” and “We don’t waterboard people, we just drown them.” This character, I can do without.

The conspiracy plot. Yes, I know I said I liked it, but Madam Secretary is doing something at least superficially similar, so right now it feels a bit stale. Further confusing things is the fact that the person who’s been sending Charlie all those text messages turns out to be none other than Matthew Del Negro, who apparently left Cyrus Bean’s bed in the Scandalverse long enough to grow out his hair and scruff and let our heroine know someone tried to have her killed. State of Affairs needs to do something surprising to distinguish this murder mystery from all the others floating around.

What did you think of the State of Affairs pilot? Let us know in the comments.