A television pilot episode is a little bit like the first chapter of a book: it has to give people a reason to keep going with the rest of the piece. NBC’s new drama State of Affairs released its pilot last week and it seems to be suffering from what many first chapters do, namely not quite enough reasons to stop or to keep watching. As pilot episodes go, this was pretty middle-of-the-road. There are both good things and bad things about it. There are likeable moments and unlikable moments. But there is nothing really hot or cold about the show that gives the audience something to hold on to. There is no depth to State of Affairs which leaves some people wondering which stereotype the show will regurgitate next.
There may not be a lot of stereotypes left to cover, however, because the pilot episode was full of so many of them. There is the dead fiance stereotype that the show opens with, a borrowing from Alias. There is the slightly crude banter that women in a “man’s world” have to do in order to be accepted by the men who are hierarchically under them, but still men so they are still almost more important than the woman is. There is the Middle Eastern villain, both in the form of a terrorist cell and in the form of a dissembling general with a poorly hidden cell phone. There are the text messages from someone who knows a little too much about what happened to the dead fiance which hearkens a little too much to Pretty Little Liars for what is supposed to be an adult show. There is the “she is a spy so she has a hidden gun in her house, but she is a really good spy, so she actually has more than one gun in the house” scene. This list could go on, but then it would be as boring as the pilot episode was.
There are some definite flashes of interest (brilliance is too strong a word) from the show, notably from Heigl and Alfre Woodard, who is playing a president so likeable that the audience might just vote for her in real life. Lead star Katherine Heigl was very good on Grey’s Anatomy, and she will most likely be compared in the two roles. That may be a little unfair considering that what made her turn at Seattle Grace Hospital so good was that she had such good writers at her side. There is no such stellar writing for State of Affairs, judging from the amount of stereotypes they chose to cram in to only one episode, a fact that is amplified by putting it next to the prolific Grey’s. The best thing to say about Heigl’s performance is that it is solid, dependable and has room to get better as time goes on. If time goes on.
The show has so many clichés that even a budding high school playwright would be disgusted, except for one small and (hopefully) important detail. Charlie, the main character, shows a surprising lack of vengeance. Forced to choose between rescuing a doctor who looks like her dead fiance and possibly killing the terrorist who murdered her fiance, Charlie focuses on “what is” not “what if.” Her motives get questioned, her judgment gets questioned and everyone else around her seems to want to kill the guy, but she makes a different decision. Where is her revenge motivation? Why does she choose to rescue a complete stranger rather than get vengeance?
This is a subtle and not quite cooked idea, but the germ of it is present in the pilot episode. Her decision not to seek revenge first and, in fact, her reticence to be vengeful at all is an oddity in the midst of such recognizable stereotypes. There is a scene at the end of the episode between Charlie and Alfre Woodard’s president where they discuss the matter of revenge. The president makes the remark, “His death will make killers out of both of us.” A show about that issue, about the question of vengeance at the scale of government and on an international stage – that would be a show worth watching. Unfortunately, the first episode does not give the audience much hope that it will go to such emotional and intellectual depths. Right now State of Affairs is hanging in the scales of mediocrity with no indication of where it will fall, but if the next weight is another stereotype, then a second season seems doubtful even at this early stage.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury