Would you be interested in a show about a troubled blonde lady whose personal indiscretions threaten to overwhelm her career working for the government to fight terrorism? No, it’s not “Homeland.” It’s “State of Affairs,” the latest stop on Katherine Heigl’s “Please take me back, Hollywood” tour.
The premise for “Homeland 2: NBC Boogaloo” is that Heigl’s improbably named CIA analyst, Charleston Tucker, is in charge of putting together the president’s daily intelligence briefing. While this may seem like a particularly arcane responsibility of the CIA, the show makes a decent argument that it translates into a fair amount of power, because Tucker is deciding which issues are the highest priorities for the president to know about, and therefore, which things she takes action on.
Tucker is saddled with an unsupportive boss, who disagrees so strongly with her judgment call early on that he tries to have her detained. You know, like a terrorist. This may not be a show that traffics in realism. Adding to her ultra-important CIA duties, Tucker is also personally quite close with the president, here played with sufficient gravity if (as of yet) little personality by Alfre Woodard. Tucker was engaged to the president’s son, but he was killed in front of Tucker while in a diplomatic mission gone awry in Kabul a year prior to the events of the show.
The details of that terrorist attack seem likely to form the central mystery of the show. Does Tucker remember everything correctly? Was her fiancé the man she and the president believed him to be? And does Tucker deserve any blame for what happened that day?
This aspect of the show seems more likely to develop into a strong program than the bureaucratic fights of CIA analysts. Tucker’s boss is never more than a cardboard villain who thinks she’s not to be trusted, and her team of loyal helpers gives the proceedings a hint “Scandal,” but without that show’s propensity for churning through plotlines.
Heigl does what she can with a character cut from the “good at work, bad at personal life” mold. Of course, her acting talent has never been the issue. A recent Facebook Q&A about the show quickly turned to questions about her rumored poor conduct, which Heigl gamely answered, and an unfortunate early scene in the pilot has a character calling her a pain in the ass who’s terrible to work with. If this is a winking reference to her real life, it doesn’t quite come across as such.
With such a late premiere date, “State of Affairs” shuffles onto a landscape already crowded with “Madam Secretary,” “Scandal” and “Homeland,” all of which it seems to share some DNA with. If a show that combines those programs sounds appealing to you, you’ll have to keep watching past the pilot, which can best be described as “workmanlike.” It’s neither great nor exceptionally bad, which often translates into years of tepid but supportive viewership. So go ahead and get sucked in. I suspect this won’t be difficult, if “State of Affairs” is given time to stretch out its ideas and everyone on the creative team, er, gets along.
“State of Affairs” premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on NBC.