in Television

‘State of Affairs’ Pilot Review: Heigl and Woodard Shine While The Plot Slumps

This is the one show everyone was… not really expecting.

Okay, that might be a little bit harsh, but let’s face it — no one was screaming ‘get Katherine Heigl back on TV in a serialised, yet somehow case-of-the-week political/spy drama’. Well, maybe someone was, but still.

State of Affairs, truly, though, is the make-or-break TV resurrection attempt of Heigl who oh-so-famously leapt from ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy following allegations of bad behaviour, contract disputes, and general all-round unprofessionalism. This shadow has been carried by Heigl for years — not even a few months ago, Shonda Rhimes, creator of Grey’s, said (of her Scandal cast) that there were ‘no Heigls’.

Heigl is, no doubt, a talented actress, albeit one with more personal baggage which continues to affect both her chances of gaining future roles (her acting career now mainly consists of insipid-slash-ridiculous romantic fare), and her off-screen persona. However, State of Affairs does manage to accomplish one thing — it reminds the world that beneath all the backstabbing and gossip, Heigl is still, very much, talented at what she does.

In State of Affairs, Heigl plays Charleston ‘Charlie’ Tucker (a name so fabulous only TV could render it properly), the top CIA analyst to the President of the United States (played by Alfre Woodward), and the woman gives the President her morning briefing on the world’s affairs. The pilot concerns itself with the rescue attempt of an American doctor in Kenya, and the conflict over diverting resources to either save him or potentially capture a known terrorist based on shaky intelligence.

Admittedly, as plots go, this is textbook stuff which isn’t played badly, so much… as ineffectually. Sadly, while the lead performances here are better than we might have suspected from the promotional trailers, the plot still struggles to find its footing and soon sinks beneath a sea of beige, government thriller cliches.

Heigl here, slides between the kind of tightly-wound professionalism that befits someone working in the White House, and a loose and dangerous dark side that, while invigorating to some very dull scenes, makes Charleston a slightly typecast heroine in this post-Homeland televison landscape. Carrie Matheson provided her own niche for troubled and brilliant and blonde government officials — as a result, Charleston, however well-intentioned, comes across like a carbon copy. Still, Heigl gives her all, which is, in itself, a commendable effort, given that she’s lumbered with the ‘dead fiancee’ plot of many a beleaguered drama heroine.

In addition, Alfre Woodard here shines brightly — as the first female (and black) President, Woodard’s Constance is powerful, commanding, and is full of suitable gravitas. The graveyard scene towards the end of the episode provides one of the true highlights of the episode, allowing for Heigl and Woodard to flex their acting chops in a scene that should come across as hackneyed but is instead believable and grounded, largely in thanks to Woodard’s restrained, dignified portrayal of the ongoing effects of grief.

In short, State of Affairs is a fair, if somewhat middling, procedural that looks set to follow cases of the week, and investigate just exactly what happened to Charleston’s fiancee — and why he was pointing a gun; trust us, just watch the pilot and you’ll see — along with plenty of drama along the way.

Is it one to watch? For this reviewer, personally: no. It’s not that all involved don’t try their hardest, but Heigl, Woodard et. al, can only do so much heavy lifting with dour and typical plots as these. Maybe in a few weeks the show will shock us all — but until that time, the show will be akin to a shielded Russian submarine (spoilers for next week!): off my radar.