Fall 2014 Review: State of Affairs

17 Nov

State of Affairs - Season Pilot

Is it reasonable to say that something is a cross between Homeland and Madam Secretary after having only seen one episode of Madam Secretary? Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t, but I’m saying it. Perhaps more simply and clearly, it’s just a network TV version of Homeland – the Madam Secretary simply refers to the broadcast-appropriate national security cases-of-the-week that the main character discusses with the president. Otherwise, Katherine Heigl’s Charleston Tucker is the Carrie Mathison analogue. Let me count the ways.

Charleston starts the episode in her psychologist’s office. She’s dealing with a tragic personal traumatic event that happened deep within the middle east. Her fiancé (who turns out to also be the president’s son; that’s different, I suppose) died in Kabul at the hands of most-wanted terrorist Omar Abdul Fatah, the Abu Nazir of State of Affairs. There’s also more than meets to the eye to that integral event; Charleston wasn’t warned of a traitor, but she has gaps in her memory and has secret information about the events that only one other person knows that could implicate her personally and ruin her career. An unidentified person texts her throughout the episode, aluding to knowing details about the terrorist attack which she does not.

In order get over these tragic events, she works hard and she plays hard. She’s promiscuous (I’m not judging her by any means, but her psychologist does) and she drinks a lot. She’s a high ranking CIA official; unlike Carrie she has direct contact with the president. She’s very sensitive when people accuse of her letting her personal life of getting in the way of her professional decision making. She’s a rogue; she gets in trouble with her bosses, and bucks them, even if it means getting suspended, which happens in the first twenty minutes of the first episode. She has friends and colleagues who believe in her, respect her, and trust her with their careers – she uses these connections in the pilot to work her way out of her suspension, prove that she’s right, and embarrass the CIA director, her direct higher up.

So, yes. She’s pretty much Carrie in most of the ways that count. How is she different? She’s not actually crazy, it doesn’t seem like, though she may have some PTSD or survivor’s remorse. She was engaged to the president’s son and thus has the president’s implicit trust, which is probably more than Carrie had, leverage-wise. But that’s about it.

Of course, the show isn’t as hardboiled or hardcore as Homeland in any number of ways – it’s on NBC and not on Showtime. There’s probably going to be much more of a case per week to go along with the running plot to catch Fatah and figure out what happened the night her fiancé was killed (In this episode, Tucker makes some unpopular calls but ends up saving an American doctor taken hostage).

Being a Homeland rip off  isn’t exactly something you want to wear on your sleve these days, but Homeland did have a truly all-time rookie season (the Mark Fidrych of TV shows? I’m still working on it), which can be hard to remember I know. Still, Homeland’s pilot, Carrie’s character even aside, was a lot more intriguing and well-executed than State of Affairs. After that, State of Affairs feels like an extremely neutered, generizied version, that’s only one step away from a typical CBS police procedural. That’s not the worst thing in the world to be, but it’s not particularly close to engendering repeat viewing either. I’m not sure if NBC thinks it’s being at all daring with State of Affairs, but it isn’t. Madam Secretary, which, to be fair, I’m not watching either, screams broadcast show and knows what it is even if that has a lower ceiling than most better cable shows. State of Affairs seems to want to fly closer to what airs on premium cable these days, but never anywhere close enough to make you actually believe it could.

Will I watch it again? No. While not State of Affairs’ fault, anything which reminds me in any way of Homeland right now is pretty poisonous. Homeland, as mentioned above, had one of the all-time great first seasons, and then went downhill from there, and a Carrie analogue is the last new character I want to see. Charleston probably won’t be as unwatchable as Carrie gets,  (seriously, who can be?) which is absolutely worth noting, but the start of State of Affairs is also a lot less intriguing than the pilot of Homeland was all around.


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