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NBC's State of Affairs Is No Followup to The Blacklist

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 24 Nov 2014 16:00
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State of Affairs plays like NBC wanted to remake 24 as a Shonda Rhimes show... and without Shonda Rhimes, it just doesn't work.

Here's a show I went in wanting to like. Not because I feel particularly strongly about the career prospects of Katherine Heigl, who years ago torpedoed what should have been the easiest feature-film career launch in a decade (a model-gorgeous blonde bombshell with genuine comedy-chops and a solid background in TV drama) by sort of trashing her own movie as sexist -- it was a move which, fair or not, came off strange when she followed with drivel like The Ugly Truth. The fact that Heigl is now limping back to the small screen to try for a reboot doesn't matter much to me, but I continue to root for State of Affairs' creator Joe Carnahan.

The great unsung action talent of present-day Hollywood, Carnahan should've been able to write his own ticket after Smokin' Aces and The Grey but still seems stuck "paying for" the lukewarm reception for his (underrated) A-Team adaptation. His most recent action foray, Stretch, went straight to streaming. But he's found recent success producing for television, most notably with the hit series The Blacklist, so I wanted to see what his next trick would be.

The pilot/debut for State of Affairs, unfortunately, plays a lot more like a Katherine Heigl comeback vehicle than a Blacklist follow-up. It's soapy and simplistic (not necessarily bad qualities; this is television, after all), with obvious broad-strokes storytelling and an embarrassing focus on trying to force its main character into interesting-ness via plot beats and backstory while the actress playing her strikes still-ready "iconic" poses and goes about the business of creating repeatable catchphrases and physical nuances that can become fan-favorite "bits" on the series. It's a star-turn without much else holding it up.

The pitch for this one probably sounded a lot like "What if 24 had been a Shonda Rhimes show?" Heigl is Charleston Tucker (no, really), a CIA analyst who oversees the team responsible for mining the web, security information, covert intelligence and other assorted "chatter" to create the Daily Briefings for various government heads, with Charleston herself reporting to Alfre Woodard as the President. The writers have clearly studied the House model very carefully, from our heroine's hard-drinking, therapy-attending, casual-sex seeking (the show demands that the audience accept that an insanely powerful Washington power-player who looks exactly like Katherine Heigl has to pull a "cool girl" routine in dive bars to find a hookup) personal-life to the team of quirky underlings to the snappy relationship with superiors.

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