There is an art to diplomacy. Every situation requires a very particular set of skills and a delicate approach. Working in another country demands an appeasement of cultural norms that will understandably feel foreign, and the proper response to the occasional and accidental faux pas that has the potential to cause grievous offense if not properly handled. The Diplomat follows two married ambassadors who have built a life out of national service but may not be all that suited to their latest political assignment: representing the United States government in London.
Kate Wyler (Keri Russell) was all set to go to Afghanistan on behalf of her country, but a deadly attack in the United Kingdom prompts United States President Rayburn (Michael McKean) to dispatch her to London instead. Trained to operate in a war zone where she can get things done, she finds herself in an altogether different environment where public image is key, with Deputy Chief of Mission Stuart Hayford (Ato Essandoh) guiding her through the process. It doesn’t help that her husband Hal (Rufus Sewell) is also a former ambassador whose reputation precedes him and who all too often inserts himself into situations that would be better off without his involvement.
The Diplomat comes from showrunner Debora Cahn, who has written previously for series including Homeland and The West Wing. This show exists somewhere between those two tonally, involving fast-paced action and a good deal of conversation, spending time on the political intricacies of what Kate must now do in her post. Free from the confines of network television, Kate and Hal don’t limit their language even in the presence of others, presenting a much rougher exterior than the one they would ideally like for the American and British public to see.
Being in a new place presents an entirely new group of people for the Wylers to interact with, and this show invests tremendously in its supporting cast. Essandoh brings a sense of seasoned frustration to Stuart, who would rather not concern himself with procedural matters and have to explain everything to his superior. Nana Mensah, David Gyasi, Ali Ahn, Miguel Sandoval, and Celia Imrie are memorable members of the Wylers’ circle, both friends and foes, and it’s great to see McKean as the American leader and Rory Kinnear as his British counterpart, both prone to making statements that then force their underlings to do considerable damage control.
Russell dependably anchored The Americans for its six seasons on FX, playing a different kind of political operator, one who wasn’t meant to be nearly as visible as Kate is. It’s rewarding to see Russell create a no-nonsense figure whose new job now requires plenty of nonsense, and she’s at her most compelling when Kate does agree to play the game and go along with the public relations campaign she feels is a waste of time. Opposite her, Sewell, who was chilling as Nazi Obergruppenführer John Smith in Prime Video’s The Man in the High Castle, chews plenty of scenery as Hal, who understands full well the influential power of his charm.
All eight episodes of season one of The Diplomat are available at launch, each running close to fifty minutes. That provides ample opportunity for character development and action, inviting audiences to sit down and watch the entire show at once if that time is available. But each episode also contains a substantial amount of story progress, leaving just enough stones unturned to make the next episode worth tuning into, even if it’s not right away. The Diplomat paces itself well and knows when not to over-deliver, positioning its rollout in a deliberate way just as its characters seek to best leverage their newfound positions.
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Season one of The Diplomat premieres on Netflix on Thursday, April 20th.