State of Affairs premiered on NBC Monday night. Set in the present day, the series stars Katherine Heigl as a CIA analyst tasked with the job of being in charge of the President’s Daily Briefing Book. Reporting to work at 2:00 in the morning, Heigl, called Charleston ‘Charlie’ Tucker, and her staff scour the internet, read all the overnight traffic sent in by CIA station chiefs across the globe, assemble intercepted cell phone chatter, and various news reports. In short, they organize and prioritize a list, for the President every day, of the most urgent and pressing security issues facing the country.
President Constance Payton is played by Alfre Woodard. The Director of the CIA is played by Dennis Boutsikiris. David Harbour, who you all know as Elliot Hirsch on The Newsroom, is on board as David Patrick, the President’s Chief of Staff. There’s a big cast and things move rather quickly on this show. In fact, I’d call the pacing breathless. Which may be a positive because it means less exposition and more action oriented scenes.
In the way of background, Charlie used to date the President’s son Aaron. It was actually more than just dating. They were engaged. But Aaron was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan one year ago. Charlie was also in the same group that was attacked by the terrorists, but she survived.
As the show begins, we learn that Charlie is seeing a shrink (as well as not seeing) and trying to deal with PTSD from that event. She has recurring nightmares of that horrible night, and it isn’t clear if she remembers everything or is suppressing other parts of that night. Charlie deals with the PTSD with occasional binges with alcohol as well as casual sex. Not exactly what the government needs or wants with some one who is in contact with and briefing the President on a daily basis..
So even though Charlie presents a huge security risk, we see her arriving at the White House as a regular part of her job. She’ll walk in and the President says, What do you got for me today? In the pilot we also see Charlie making decisions way above her pay grade. She also been told and warned that she doesn’t make policy, the POTUS does that.
Anyway, there are a number of story arcs that begin in the pilot episode, and a couple are still in play. One was a US doctor who bore a resemblance to the departed Aaron Payton, fell into the wrong hands in Kenya. This unnamed group, that captured him, goes on the air, coverage by Al-Jazeera, with beheadings so this became a high priority item, as the assessment team says that he may have only eight hours to live. Also on tap is the ‘possible’ capture or killing of one Omar Abdul Fatah – the world’s favorite number one terrorist. They think they know where he is but the spotters are only 50% sure.
Charlie says , call me when it is at least 80%. So she leaves it out of the POTUS briefing book because it still isn’t certain. This creates issues between her, and the President’s Chief of Staff, as well as the Director of the CIA.
That’s pretty much the lay of the land, and is plenty by way of setting the story up for you.
I watched the pilot and thought I’d be willing to invest in at least a few more episodes. The series looks like it has something of Zero Dark Thirty in it, something of DC political thriller to it, and tie that in with the personal dramas of both Woodard’s President, and Heigl’s Charleston ‘Charlie’ Tucker.
In a key moment, in a cemetery that could be Arlington, the President pulls Charlie aside and says:
I’m not talking to the CIA analyst, I’m talking to the woman who loved my son, enough to bind her life to his. The woman who was going to give me my grandchildren. I want to hear from her. What are you going to do?
Charlies replies – I’m going to find every last person who had anything to do with the death of your son, and I’m going to end every single one of their lives.
The President then says: That’s my girl.
Okay this wasn’t the world greatest dialogue. And delivered by Heigl as Charlie Tucker the jury is still out measuring the credibility. But I think that it is unfair to hold Heigl’s past (she’s said to be tough to work with) against her, and I also believe that it would also be unfair to hold the management of this show up for scrutiny and call it a problem. Joe Carnahan (The Blacklist) was hired to Exec Produce and direct the pilot. Ed Bernero (Criminal Minds, Third Watch), the showrunner, departed the show in August citing creative differences with Carnahan.
But let’s see what they can do. Can they meld Zero Dark Thirty, with Homeland and a touch of Madame Secretary? Is Heigl good enough for a lead billing and a starring role in a prime time series (10:00 PM on Mondays), replacing The Blacklist, at least this week. Can she lead the show into the ratings war successfully? At the moment I can’t answer anything more than I’ll check in for next week’s episode.
Check out the trailer, and let me know if you have watched the show.