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'State of Affairs' review: Katherine Heigl almost shines through messy pilot

Katherine Heigl stars as a CIA analyst in

Katherine Heigl stars as a CIA analyst in NBC's new thriller, "State of Affairs," premiering Monday, Nov. 17. Photo Credit: TNS

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Katherine Heigl, in her first TV role since "Grey's Anatomy," stars as Charleston "Charlie" Tucker, a CIA analyst whose fiance was killed in a terrorist attack in Kabul. "Affairs" begins on the anniversary of his death. He was the son of the new president, Constance Payton (Alfre Woodard), therefore Charlie and the prez have some unfinished business -- find the bad guys who killed him, but save the country in the meantime.

The job -- duh -- is a pressure cooker: Charlie's up at 2 a.m. each day along with her trusted assistants to prepare a POTUS brief that lays out the top 10 threats to the United States. On this day, there's a credible report that the terrorist who killed her fiance has been located. Another crisis intrudes: An American doctor has been kidnapped by terrorists in Africa, and he happens to look . . . just like her fiance.

MY SAY The prodigal daughter has returned, and even if she doesn't always bring subtlety, nuance or range to "Affairs," she does bring star power.

As a dramatic actor, Heigl's style does tend to be florid and occasionally operatic -- perfect for Izzie Stevens and potentially well-matched to "Charlie" Tucker, too. The world is in crisis, American interests are under attack. Who better to fight back than a take-charge CIA analyst who's just another one of the boys, only tougher?

If this sounds like a story -- or cliche -- you've seen before, NBC and producer Joe Carnahan may have had the same hunch. The pilot's convoluted plotline has Charlie suffering from PTSD, abusing alcohol, sleeping around, and -- possibly -- compromised by some unsavory associates she cultivated in the field.

But after this overheated effort to make Charlie interesting, or at least different, she's basically just another Carrie Mathison without the pills.

That may not entirely be Heigl's fault. (She's one of a dozen producers on this, along with her mother, Nancy Heigl. Too many cooks?) Tonight's premiere is stuffed with so many back stories, forestories and side stories -- some ridiculous -- that it's impossible to get a good read on Charlie.

Will she turn into an indelible character that we talk about for years to come? The optimist in me says "yes." Second acts are irresistible, and Heigl still has that hard-to-define star quality. The realist in me says otherwise.

GRADE C+

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