A well-written political drama with sharply dressed characters playing up their ulterior motives like a game of chess
The Diplomat review by Jennifer AJ
The Diplomat is Netflix’s latest geopolitical drama starring Keri Russell and Rufus Sewell. It became an overnight hit for the streamer, earning an early renewal just a couple of weeks after it premiered. Dialogue-heavy, intricately woven, and fast paced, The Diplomat is perfect for those who enjoy the likes of House of Cards, The Good Wife, or Homeland.
The show revolves around Kate Wyler (Russell), an American diplomat who gets appointed as Ambassador to the United Kingdom right when an international crisis is happening between the two countries and Iran. Complicating matters is her husband, fellow diplomat Hal Wyler (Sewell). Hal’s notorious reputation in international diplomatic affairs often lands them both in hot water, further exacerbated by his keenness to assert his own influence. With the state of the nations and their own marriage at stake, the Wylers must navigate the cutthroat world they’re thrown into.
Right off the bat, The Diplomat shows itself as efficient: the dialogue forgoes smart-aleck wordplays for straightforward lines, the cinematography competently done without much frills, and the story just ploughs you right into the minutiae of the action.
The problem is, we’ve been spoiled by so many iterations of similar dynamics that it starts to feel… generic: we’ve got an ultra-competent woman in a high-power position trying to just do her job while overcoming her colleagues’ gaffes, a supporting partner in similarly high-power position who claims to want to help but often does the opposite, a throng of staff who follows her with exasperated breaths - overwhelmed but awed by her nonetheless, and diplomatic crisis that always edges into threat of warfare.
We’ve been here before many times, and The Diplomat is just another sleek addition that adds very little in the way of innovation or excitement. At least Russell’s last political thriller effort, The Americans, had the benefit of a fresh premise (two married Russian sleeper agents sent to spy on the US during the Cold War) and her sizzling reel-to-real chemistry with co-star Matthew Rhys.
That’s not to say The Diplomat isn’t worth your while. It still boasts a well-written political drama with sharply dressed characters playing up their ulterior motives like a game of chess. The zippy dialogues have been roundly praised, rightly so. It also presents a believable portrayal of modern political machinations: lots of backroom talks instead of open aggressions.
The unconventional marriage at the centre is expertly played by Russell and Sewell, and certainly the heart of the series. At the beginning of the series, we are shown their comfortable dynamic, fusing the professional with the personal at such ease - only to quickly discover they’ve agreed to an impending divorce. But through a series of diplomatic complications, this marriage must stay put. And so, despite Mr Wyler’s many obvious red flags, they must find a way to get along. That is certainly the crux of so many conflicts in the show, if you like a bit of soapy elements to watch.
Published on May 29th, 2023. Written by Jennifer Ariesta for Television Heaven.