It's a good thing Showtime's Homeland has regained a good deal of its suspenseful mojo this season — Sunday's episode involving a captured Saul (Mandy Patinkin) on the run from the Taliban was especially harrowing — because otherwise it would have a lot to answer for, having seemingly inspired NBC's disappointingly derivative State of Affairs, a clumsy and unconvincing star vehicle for a miscast Katherine Heigl (premiering Monday at 10/9c).
This may be the saddest case of Homeland envy I've yet encountered, as we observe Heigl desperately seizing the opportunity to go full Carrie Mathison/Claire Danes in the central role of the unfortunately named Charleston (call her "Charlie") Tucker, an unstable CIA analyst whose main job is to assemble the daily briefing book for the president (Alfre Woodard). They have a special bond, Charlie and Madam Prez, because Charlie was once engaged to Aaron, the hunky soldier son of the Prez, until he was killed a year ago during a fiery terrorist attack in Kabul, which we see reenacted in jittery bits and pieces.
Like Homeland's bipolar Carrie, Affairs' Charlie is damaged goods, suffering PTSD symptoms from the attack she eyewitnessed, still suppressing many of the more disturbing details. Against her therapist's advice, she self-medicates with alcohol and random, casual sex. (If she starts talking to Dead Aaron the way Izzie indulged Denny's Ghost on Grey's Anatomy all those years ago, I'm out.) None of this, however, justifies the most objectionable aspects of Charlie's workplace demeanor: absurdly glam outfits and hairdos more suitable for a cocktail party than serious spy business; and worse, her tendency to make decisions way above her pay grade.
In the contrived pilot, she has to make the call between going after the most-wanted terrorist who killed the president's son or saving the life of a kidnapped physician who looks a lot like Dead Aaron. Obviously, this shouldn't be a briefing book editor's decision to make, and she keeps critical intel from Madam Prez that would get most people fired. But not Charlie, to whom Madam Prez actually says, "That's my girl."
There might be a compelling show in depicting the daily crises that fill a president's briefing book, but not when filtered through this preposterous lens. Even with grim "topical" touches like a terrorist executing a hostage on the Internet, or giving Charlie nerdy glasses to wear as a forced accessory to convey her irreverent smarts, State of Affairs makes it impossible to take any of this convoluted intrigue seriously. This is what NBC is going to squander the post-Voice time slot on for the rest of the year?