Friday, January 9, 2015

Mozart in the Jungle

It's tough writing reviews for pilots airing on Netflix or Amazon or any venue that presents you with every episode all at once. In one sense, I think a show really benefits from being able to craft a full season in one go. But, on the other hand, it means that the pilot frequently feels less like the show's mission statement and more like a first chapter. I don't see the point in reviewing a first chapter. That being said, Mozart in the Jungle does a lot of good work laying out the bizarre world of hardcore partying classical musicians. And it's a fun little world.

Based on the book, Mozart in the Jungle is about the strange inner workings of the classical music scene in New York City. A lot of humor is squeezed out of the contrast between the classical and the contemporary: downing shots between rounds of an oboe vs. flute play-off.

The show is written in part by Roman Coppola and Jason Shwartzman - and they bring their love of being young and understated in the big city - but their dialogue feels somehow muted in this setting. For all their musical virtuosity, the characters are a little one note. Everyone is surface level quirky, as opposed to Roman's usual deep inner quirkiness. The directing is odd. There's no consistent stylistic voice. At one point, the show slips into bizarre impressionistic visuals, at another point it uses 30 Rock-style cutaway gags. It keeps you on your toes, for sure, but it's also distracting and makes the whole episode feel disjointed.

All in all, if you like Girls and want something like that, but set in the New York classical music scene, you might dig this? I don't really know.



A word of advice: if you are going to remake King Lear, and set it in the world of hip hop, don't have one of your characters say, "What is this, King Lear?" It's not cute, it's lazy.

So, this is basically Dallas, but with hip hop instead of Country. And really bad hip hop, too. Every time someone plays a track and goes, "That's nice," I wonder if this is secretly a show about deaf people. But, to be fair, Timbaland isn't going to write his best stuff for a network drama. He's got Jay-Z on the other line. So, ignoring the horrible music this show made me listen too, I walk away a little mixed.

First, the good stuff: Taraj P. Henson. This woman is not messing around. She can chew the scenery and then, in a split second, become relaxed and comfortable. She sinks her teeth into the material, even if the material is paper thin. I love it that Henson makes the decision not to play her character like a madwoman, but like a woman who pretends to be mad. Being unpredictable gives her power, and she uses that power. More good stuff: addressing hip hop homophobia. This is a subject that deserves a little inspection and I appreciate the show for not pushing the gay artist into the background.

Now, the bad stuff: Terrence Howard. I like the guy, but this is a phoned-in performance. He delivers every line like he's asking a stranger for directions. He has been given a rich and complicated character who could be a villain or a tragic hero, depending on the performance, but Howard just plays him like a cameo. He is almost always framed in the middle of the scene, and he's like a black hole, so utterly devoid of all content that he destroys the scene around him. More bad stuff: the writing. Every scene was so transparent. Two characters arrive at a location, explain what they want, scheme an obvious plot and then move on. At a certain point, as long as I know who's in the scene, I know exactly what will happen.

One thing I can say for Empire's pilot is that it's clearly holding nothing back. Sometimes, pilots for epic soapy dramas can start a little piddling, but this isn't the case for Empire. There's lust, betrayal, and murder, all in the first episode. But this also demonstrates Empire's weakness. The show has shown its hand and there's not a whole lot to bet on.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Agent Carter

I think it's possible to appreciate the past without sliding into nostalgia. Every generation had a fresh new view of the world. I don't buy the whole "simpler times" bullshit. But I do think there were remarkable times. There is something charming in the birth of cinema, the first shaky steps we took into the visual medium, when everything was fresh and new and tying a damsel to a train track was down right inspired. This admiration for our storytelling roots is what gave us Raiders of the Lost Ark, every Wes Anderson film, and now, Agent Carter, the newest addition to Marvel's media blitzkrieg.

Agent Carter follows the thrilling adventures of Peggy Carter, who works for a mysterious government agency in post WWII America. The fact that she is Captain America's ex-girlfriend, or that this all somehow fits into the ever-expanding Marvel cinematic universe is thankfully pushed to the background. What matters here is the thrilling adventures.

The first episode features exploding orbs, lethal hitmen with removed vocal chords, shady deals at fancy balls, and sci-fi technology made from typewriters and old razors. Agent Carter grabs a big armful of old school pulp storytelling, slips in some modern ideas on gender, and drops it in your lap. It's a blast (sometimes literally) to watch. And it has at its core a woman with enough emotional depth to keep the whole thing grounded.

If I had to pick what I liked the most about this pilot (which I'm having a very hard time doing), it would have to be Hayley Atwell's performance as the titular character. She is magnetic. And she's been given a character that makes perfect use of her blinding confidence as an actor. Carter is tough and practical, but what stands out for me is that she has no tacked-on flaws. The writers have smartly avoided giving her a run-of-the-mill weakness. She's not an asshole. She's not a mess at home. She's polite and kind, never relenting an inch in a world that is not particularly fair to single women in the work place. And she should be perfect. This is Captain America's girlfriend!

I also have to point out how much I love this pilot's approach to sexism. If you're going to make a period TV show, it's hard not to address this unfortunate part of American culture, especially in late 1940s America, where men were re-entering the work force and displacing thousands of women. But there's a line you have to tow: you can't ignore how sexist America was, but at the same time, you've got to make a point beyond "sexism is bad." I sometimes get very bored with Mad Men after the nth scene showing me how much it sucked to be a woman in the 1960s. This show proposes a simple solution: instead of sexism being the point of the show, it is simply one more obstacle standing between Agent Carter and saving the world.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015


I like Dan Fogleman for the simplest of reasons: He is funny and he rarely infuriates me. If you are looking for something funny that won't make you terribly angry, then don't bother with the rest of this review. You can go watch Galavant and enjoy yourself.

But, if you are looking for anything deeper than a hearty chuckle and Timothy Omundson's soft shoe, then I fear you will be uniquely disappointed by Galavant. The story is fast paced and the songs are well written (because they're written by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater), but in the end, the show doesn't seem to have anything to say. It picks apart the cruelty of the medieval fantasy genre, but only for the purpose of a few laughs, and nothing else.

There is one moment in the beginning that borders on subversive when Galavant (Joshua Sasse) comes to rescue his girlfriend Madalena (Mallory Jensen) from being married to the wicked King Richard (Timothy Omundson) and she politely declines. This is something we rarely see in fantasy: in a time rife with poverty, war, and the plague, things like wealth and security are far more important than love. And the show could have made Madalena a very relatable character, but instead, she is portrayed as a greedy shrew. Ultimately the show condemns her for wanting something other than a man.

Galavant's horrible girlfriend is only one example of the many ways this show sashays to the edge of subversion before immediately backing away. And again, I must stress, this is not a condemnation of the show's production, acting, or plot. The show is functional, occasionally delightful. It's simply pointless. Galavant may wish it were Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but without a stronger effort to attack established fantasy cliches, Galavant will surely end up as the kind of tale that Monty Python was making fun of in the first place.


Monday, December 22, 2014

The Legend of Korra Teaches Us How to Write a Good Finale

I made the whopping mistake of writing my best episodes of twenty fourteen list before the final episode of The Legend of Korra aired, which wound up being beyond satisfying. But, I have been meaning to write a little about finales, so I'm going to take this mistake and turn it into an opportunity.

The Legend of Korra gave us the best finale of the year and probably one of the best series finales I've ever seen. I'll get into why that is in a little bit. First I want to talk about bad finales and why they are so awful.

A TV show that you regularly watch is like a friend. Because your friends, and all the other people in your life, are just a collection of stories that form an identity. And when a show is over, when the stories cease, its life is over. A series finale is sort of like a funeral. It is a celebration of the show's identity, and a wrapping up of all the stories it told. And, just like in life, it's hard to find meaningful closure. Rarely does anything wrap up with a nice tidy bow on top. And more often than not, a show wants to find more meaning in its finale than there has been in all the episodes that preceded it. Sometimes, the show simply cannot let go. It doesn't want to die, and it rages against the dying of the light, until it is a quivering husk of what it once was.

So, here are the big mistakes that finales make, as a list, because the internet gods demand lists.

1. "Meant to Be"

This is where a romance that worked at the beginning of a long show - then due to complications fell apart - suddenly appears out of nowhere at the end, because the writers seemed to think that these characters were "meant to be." Poppycock. No one is meant to be. People are meant to be happy, not bound by fate to each other because their names appear in the opening credits.

2. "It Was All A Dream"

Maybe in the end it isn't all a dream but instead an analogy, or a vision, or a supernatural trek through some pan-religious purgatory. It doesn't matter. Don't make your own show's story irrelevant. Don't take all the death, the pain, the heartache, and make it all for nothing. 

3. "Aren't We So Awesome"

If you love a show and you love the characters, the worst thing you can do is make some last ditch effort to remind us that all the characters are cool. We're watching the finale, which means we don't need convincing to watch the show. There's no point trying to sell us on a party we're already attending.

4. "Deus Ex Machina"

You got a problem? A big one? One that you have spent a whole season, maybe longer, trying to solve? Well luckily for you, some guy from another show has an amulet for you or some stupid shit like that and "Tadah!" problem solved.  

5. "Rewards/Punishment"

This is a tricky subject, but it's an important one. When a show is over, it's over, so any message you leave us with is the last one you get. So watch out for who gets to live happily ever after and who gets punished. It doesn't matter if a character is the hero, if he kills hundreds of people and gets a happy ending, then the show is tacitly approving his behavior.

6. "And Then They All Went On To..."

A good finale leaves us wanting more, not thanking the gods that this will be the final story the show gets to tell. Which means epilogues are a tough sell. We know these characters - because we've watched them for years - so if you tell us what happens to them in the future, we are left thinking either, "Why did you mention that," or, "That would never happen." As a story teller, you take us from A to B to C. You can't just skip to Z and expect us to be on board.


Suffice it to say there are a lot of ways to mangle the last chapter of your show, even if it was damn good right up until the end.

So now we arrive at The Legend of Korra. (Sorry, it took a little while.) This is a perfect finale. I mean perfect. No contrived rekindling of old love, no frustrating epilogue, no Deus Ex Machina. The story wraps up in both an epic and intimate way, the themes become laser focused (pun intended), and, in the end, we are left wanting so much more. 

What stands out most to me about the Korra finale is that it is all about love. It shows us the love of a father, a mother, a friend, a lover, and most importantly, an adversary. The Legend of Korra is unique in that villains are sympathetic. They have fears and grief and anger, and they are in need of love, just like the rest of us. So to conquer them, offer them compassion. It is a wonderful message, especially for the show's younger audience. 

What The Legend of Korra shows us in its final moments is an iconoclastic love. It is a love that doesn't involve men. Korra has, for a long time, been a bastion of girl-centric epics. Over the last few seasons, the men have become increasingly irrelevant to the story. This season featured Korra's first female 'big bad,' who was a mirror image of Korra, showing us how power and ambition are a recipe for both heroes and villains. The show's finale shed the "will they, won't they?" of Mako and Korra (a man and a woman), allowing a far more satisfying relationship between Korra and Asami (both woman). The love between them is ambiguous to younger viewers but clear as day to anyone watching closely. 

As the episode came to an end, I kept thinking of Patroclus and Achilles, two great heroes of the Illiad who fought side by side. History's first "Bromance." Their relationship was debatably platonic, undeniably epic, and has spawned a million copycats. Bonds formed in battle make for great drama. But it is a genre of story telling that has historically excluded women. The love between women has, for so long, been a tame domestic kind of love. It is a love that passes the time until the men come home. The Legend of Korra ended its fantastic run by showing that the love between women is a bond that saves the world.

Episodes You Should Have Seen in Twenty Fourteen

Reviewing TV pilots is, in some ways, a lot like evaluating a baby. It doesn't matter if he'll grow up to be Neil deGrasse Tyson, for now he's a drooling idiot who keeps trying to eat his own vomit. Pilots are often the worst episode of a show. On the other hand, sometimes a pilot is all a show has to offer and after the first episode the show just circles the drain. So I want to talk about episodes that were really damn good in 2014 that weren't pilots. Here's my list, in no particular order.

The Legend of Korra - "Ultimatum"

"As long as I'm breathing, it's not over."

Avatar: The Last Airbender was quite possibly one of the more important kids' shows of the last decade. It handled adult themes in a way that was kid friendly and yet in no way watered down. The Legend of Korra is an excellent companion piece to Avatar, but for a slightly older generation. And yet it has been shat upon by Nickelodeon, its third season getting released with no marketing, then pulled from air halfway through its run, available only via streaming on the Nick website. And it's a shame because the third season of The Legend of Korra is the best by far. The fourth and final season, airing currently, is not bad but pales in comparison. "Ultimatum" is a perfect specimen of what Korra does best. It's mostly fun and fast paced, and yet complex, highly political events underline every moment, every choice. On top of that, this episode has the best fight scenes I've seen on television ever, in my whole life. They are beautifully animated, amazingly choreographed and staged. The represent everything that animation can bring to the table with martial arts and they do so without ever forgetting about the stakes that underpin the action. I'm happy to be able to suggest many high caliber kids' shows (Adventure Time, Over the Garden Wall, Bravest Warriors) that parents can watch as well. But The Legend of Korra is the only kids' show this year that is constructing a cohesive lesson on how to view world politics. Also, girl power. So much girl power.

The Good Wife - "Last Call"

"What does it mean if there is no god? How is that any better?"
"It's not better. It's just truer." 

Speaking of girl power and politics... The Good Wife! There's nothing quite as shocking as killing a main character in a TV show. Since it is such an easy way to drum up emotion and pathos, it is frequently misused as a cheap trick to cover up poor character growth or to mine some drama out of an actor's contract dispute. Despite being a personal top ten drama for the last four years, this year, The Good Wife decided to kill off a main character for all the wrong reasons. And yet, from the ashes of this bad decision, the writers for The Good Wife created an hour of unwavering emotional free fall, the likes of which I have not seen since Buffy The Vampire Slayer ("The Body"). What is most fascinating about "The Last Call" is that there is a very serious discussion of atheism plopped down in the middle of what is otherwise a very focused story about discovering the meaning of a dead man's last voicemail. I find that atheism is often misrepresented in TV if represented at all. Atheists in media are always either acerbic intellectuals or nihilists. Rarely do you see a woman with a family, and a job that has nothing to do with science, who simply does not believe. There is no reason, no psychological framework, for her atheism. She just has no faith. And after decades of shows dealing with matters of faith, it's nice to see the other side represented with the same emotional care.

The Americans - "New Car"

"It's nicer here, yes. It's easier. It's not better."

And speaking of struggles with atheism... The Americans! I've started pitching The Americans as "Mad Men with a plot." I don't mean to disparage Mad Men. Sometimes finely crafted wandering is enjoyable. But every now and then, it's nice to see a little story between all that symbolism and critique. And story is where The Americans is king. Each season is a mile-a-minute spy thriller, loaded with heaping doses of critique and satire. What stands out about "New Car" is just how many themes it juggles. American commercialism, patriotism, the futility of vengeance, all culminating with the tearful breakdown of a child who was caught sneaking into the neighbor's house to play video games. And it's moment's like this, where the stakes are relatively low and the setting is intimate that the show strikes its hardest. Because no battle, no global event will ever hit as close to home as... well... home. 

Game of Thrones - "The Mountain and the Viper"

"People die at their dinner tables. They die in their beds. They die squatting over their chamber pots. Everybody dies sooner or later."

And speaking of the futility of vengeance... Game of Thrones! Where everybody dies and nothing has any meaning. This episode is Game of Thrones at its finest. The fight has edge-of-your-seat tension, breathtaking choreography and nightmare-inducing special effects. The writing is crisp, the meanings, layered. And while it ends with a woman shrieking in horror, it also features one of the show's most triumphant moments. Sansa Stark, after seasons of nonstop torture, emerges from the castle, clad in black feathers, powerful, magnificent. It won't last, because nothing ever does. But for a moment, Game of Thrones has given us the kind of triumph you can't manufacture with all the special effects in the world. It is the triumph you earn. The victory you claim by passing through the flames.

Rick and Morty - "Rixty Minutes"

"Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody's going to die. Come watch TV."

And speaking of everybody dying and nothing having any meaning... Rick and Morty! This is the funniest half hour produced in 2014, without a doubt. No contest. It takes what is essentially a throwaway sitcom B plot and turns it into a mission statement. And it couldn't have come at a better time. 2014 was a decidedly unfunny year. Robin Williams passed away, Bill Cosby probably raped a lot of women. It was hard to find new things to laugh at without feeling bad about yourself. But not Rick and Morty. Rick and Morty laughed at all the bad stuff and said, "Not only is it OK to laugh, it is the only thing you can do." Not since Douglas Adams has a show mined this much humor out of destroying all life on earth. And I can't think of a time in the history of television when nihilism has kept a family together. Life sucks, I know. Wubalubadubdub! 

True Detective - "Who Goes There"

"Enough with the self-improvement-penance-hand-wringing shit. Let's go to work."

And speaking of nihilism... True Detective! I think I loved True Detective a lot less than everyone else. It's on my top ten list, so obviously I loved it, just not as much as the guy sitting next to me. The main complaint I have with the season is that it isn't as profound as it pretends to be. But not being profound is not a bad thing. If you aren't telling us a story about life, but instead just telling us a story about two guys and a case, it frees you up in a lot of ways. So, why do I love this episode so much? Rust says it all when he says, "Let's go to work." This is the finest hour of True Detective. There is no pontificating, no discussions of emotional turmoil. Instead, Rust and Marty go off book and get into some serious shit. And boy is it thrilling. Everyone and their mother knows about the six-minute continuous take, but what is more interesting to me is the six minutes of no scripted dialogue in what is otherwise such a talky show. It is just action, tension, spectacle, and dread. And in the end, what makes "Who Goes There" such a good episode of television is that all that talk of "touching evil" is just talk. Finally, here, we see the lengths Rust is willing to go to for the truth, for his obsession. It is hypnotizing and deeply troubling. 

Hannibal - "Tome-wan"

"Whenever feasible, one should always try to eat the rude."

And speaking of hypnotizing and deeply troubling... Hannibal! I honestly cannot get over how beautiful this show is. It is unthinkably pretty. And it has the greatest score on television - all sloshing water and bending pipes with the occasional brush of piano strings, haunting and murky. Season one of Hannibal was a descent into madness, while season two is a game of cat and mouse between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter. Of course, you're not ever sure who is the cat. Unfortunately, the season finale wraps up this battle of wills in a very stupid and clunky way, but right before the final episode came "Tome-wan," a moment of stillness and camaraderie between Will and Hannibal before it ends. Hannibal is very much like an epic poem of old, prone to hyperbole and meandering philosophical musings, filled with heroes, gods, and the Devil himself. But like all good epic poems, it makes a world of strange beauty that you cannot help but tumble into.

Fargo - "A Fox, A Cabbage, And a Cage"

"I'd call it animal except animals only kill for food."

And speaking of the Devil... Fargo! Fargo could have easily wound up the ugly stepchild of one of the greatest movies ever made, but instead it treated its pedigree as a challenge and rose to the occasion, becoming one of the greatest miniseries of all time and my favorite show of 2014. How it does this is honestly beyond me. The twists and turns, the humor and horror, all make a little clockwork universe too complex and tightly wound for me to ever really wrap my head around. At first I thought it was impressive that Noah Hawley wrote every episode, but after watching the whole season, I can say that no committee could have ever made that show. It is a singular creative vision, and it is a bold one. Though I can't ignore the fact that Noah Hawley had help from some of the year's most brilliant performances. Allison Tolman is a gem, Joey King is possibly the best child actor out there right now, and Martin Freeman deconstructs everything that has made him lovable in a long career of being lovable. Eventually, Martin becomes a villain so malevolent he dwarfs even Billy Bob, who is the actual Devil.

The reason I chose Fargo's penultimate episode is, like the show's very inception, it takes what seems like a bad idea on paper, and makes it brilliant in actualization. Shows rarely come back from inserting a "one year later" in the middle of a season. Hell, most shows rarely come back from inserting anything more than a summer break. But Fargo does exactly that. It skips ahead a year. Lots of things change, cases close, people move on, and more importantly, the Devil is now a dentist. Turning your biblically evil bad guy into a dentist may be the single greatest story decisions I've ever seen in television. And the Billy Bob really commits to his character reassignment, constructing a new look, a new demeanor, and a new catchphrase. Aces!

The Honourable Woman - "The Paring Knife"

"Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that in a room full of pussies, I'm the only one with a vagina."

Speaking of a miniseries with a single bold creative vision... The Honourable Woman! Hugo Blick's strange, dreamy, chronologically-impaired spy thriller. This show, despite having star power from Maggie Gyllenhaal, managed to slip right under the pop culture radar, which surprises me since it is very similar to True Detective. One mysterious (spy thriller instead of serial murder), two complicated leads (women instead of men), lots of philosophical musing (about politics instead of nihilism), and the same writer and director for every episode (except in this case Hugo Blick is both the writer and the director). Just take a moment to appreciate this accomplishment: a single man directed and wrote what is basically a six-hour film. The show is about an investigation into the very strange life of Nessa Stien (Gyllenhaal) as she tries, in her own way, to bring peace to Israel and Palestine. It's an unwavering parable, and over time Nessa becomes less and less a character and more and more the embodiment of naivety and goodness. So, predictably, she is quite thoroughly punished. The show manages to discuss politics without ever becoming condescending or preachy. It makes some rather bold assertions, not all of which I agree with, but all well thought out. The reason I chose "The Paring Knife" is because it is the final episode, so to see it, you must have watched every episode preceding it. Unlike Fargo or True Detective, the show does not have peaks and valleys, higher and lower quality episodes. The Honourable Woman is a straight shot, a rocket to the finish line. It's a new and fascinating way to make a show.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver - "Episode 18"

"Currently, the biggest scholarship program exclusively for women in America requires you to be unmarried with a mint condition uterus and also rewards working knowledge of buttock adhesive technology."

Speaking of bold political assertions... Last Week Tonight! This show seemed, at first to be a knock-off Daily Show but missing the daily aspect. Of course, what seemed at first a disadvantage wound up being far from it. Giving John Oliver and his team a week to fully investigate every story meant that Last Week Tonight could do some honest investigative journalism into subjects not usually considered newsworthy - but very much lampoon-worthy. I respect what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are doing, but they are mostly just sitting on the sidelines making fun of bad journalists. Meanwhile, John Oliver is actually in the game, reporting on real issues that no one seems to care about but everyone should. Interestingly enough, the episode I picked criticizes the US embargo of Cuba which wound up being rather prescient as Obama is now discussing lifting that embargo.


So there you have it people - my favorite episodes in a banner year for good episodes. Strangely, while writing this I discovered an interesting theme that connects all these shows. It seems 2014 was the year for finding solace in hopelessness. And now that I understand this, it's not so strange that Rustin Cohle took over the internet with his cool disaffected nihilism. This was the year in which the end was nigh and everyone just shrugged and made another beer can sculpture.

Monday, November 24, 2014

State of Affairs

For a few minutes, I thought there was hope for this pilot. The episode starts with a scene of utter chaos, showing us a car being ambushed in Kabul, all shot from one character's point of view. It's a fantastic scene, with the camera seamlessly leaving first person and showing the terrified Katherine Heigl as she tries to crawl out of danger.

Then, people started talking, and all at once, that hope was dashed. Despite the attention-grabbing opening scene, the rest of this episode is so mind-numbingly boring it should be prescribed as a sedative. The show begins with a therapy session that would be grounds for revoking that therapist's license, then dives into a CIA plot line that could strain pasta it has so many holes in it, and ends with an overarching mystery that has all the intrigue of tying your shoelaces. 

First, the plot holes. The central conflict of the pilot for State of Affairs is that there is an American doctor who has been kidnapped in Africa. In addition, there is a terrorist (a knock-off Osama Bin Laden) who the CIA has maybe just found, somewhere else in Africa. Charleston Tucker (Katherine Heigl) is the CIA's briefer to the president and she must decide which course of action to take, save the hostage or catch the bad guy. If you are wondering, "Why not save the hostage, which takes like an hour, then go kill the bad guy?" then A+, you pass the test, you can go home. If you are able to suspend disbelief and say, "OK, I'll buy it. Maybe the bad guy is able to pack up and completely vanish in one hour, which also happens to be the hour that they need to go save the hostage," then brace yourself because the plot holes only get wider from here on. 

Our subplot for this episode is that a general with ties to the Syrian government is in CIA headquarters for a meeting. But, this general was arrested in France for bringing a cellphone into an intelligence facility and recording classified meetings. And Tucker is concerned he might do this again. So she kidnaps him illegally, and finds a secret hat phone on him. So, if this has you shouting in disbelief, "How has a dude with a listening device in his hat managed to walk into, not one, but two heavily secured intelligence agencies!?" then bravo, stop reading, you get the point. If you are able to somehow stomach the stupidity of all of this, let me tell you about the superfluous drama.

Superfluous drama is what happens when a show has a perfectly natural outlet for great drama and instead decides to inject the show with generic plot lines. For example, State of Affairs is about CIA analysts who brief the president. Having to decide what issues in the whole world are worthy of the president's ear? That is real, natural drama. Adding a subplot where your fiance, who was also the president's son, got killed by terrorists is superfluous drama. 

I'll admit that sometimes TV viewers like old ideas dressed up in new clothes. But State of Affairs isn't even that. It's old Katherine Heigl in exactly the same clothes as before, only now they've thrown a leather jacket on her so you know she's super edgy.