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The Diplomat – TV series review

The Diplomat poster

TV Series: The Diplomat 
Released: April 2023 

Just when we thought nothing could immediately surpass the highly engrossing and entertaining “Beef”, we were pleasantly surprised to be enthralled by this other new Netflix show, which we whizzed through all 8 episodes in a day and a half.


The series was created by Debora Cahn, who provides a sharp and action-packed screenplay that keeps twisting and spinning on itself. We were taken on a whirlwind roller-coaster ride from the get-go. Cahn notably was writer and producer on the final two seasons of Showtime’s series Homeland and also FX’s award-winning Fosse/Verdon. Unsurprisingly, Cahn started her career working on the fourth to seventh and final seasons of The West Wing.

The story

The premise of The Diplomat is the hurried appointment of a new US Ambassador to the UK. But the posting is not a straightforward one, with lots of intrigue and personal drama bombarding you along the way to keep us glued to the gogglebox.

We’re plunged head-on into the high-paced, high-stakes and ruthless world of domestic politics and international diplomacy. Barely stepping into the role, the newly appointed female Ambassador has to immediately deal with an international incident involving an attack by an unknown source on a British warship. Throw in the likeable Ato Essendoh as Stuart Heyford (the Ambassador’s Deputy Chief of Mission) and Ali Ahn as Eidra Graham (the CIA Station Chief in her office)—both of whom we find out are having a secret romantic liaison—and the social dynamics of the already demanding working relationships take on an extra twist.

A combination of well-constructed situations and the well-conceived characters provides a rich canvas for very provocative and contemporary content. Beyond the expected Anglo-American cultural observations of the context, the tenuous health of the marriage of the two ‘Ambassador Wylers’, their competing yet complementary career ambitions and the real reason why Kate is being put to the test with this interim diplomatic role (which only a handful know about) become useful plot devices for deliciously entertaining dialogue that explores issues such as the ever-evolving gender and power politics.
Unlike her predecessors, Kate has risen through the ranks as a career diplomat. As a hands-on staffer herself, she finds it hard to restrict her actions as a diplomatic figure head. She is uncomfortable with public speaking but is in her element in one-on-one interactions, building trust and reading the signals and signs with aplomb. Supported by first-hand insights and personal connections in the international diplomatic arena, is she really suited to the role?

The cast

Keri Russell leads the cast and is stunning, perfectly inhabiting the newly-appointed role of Ambassador Kate Wyler, ably supported by Rufus Sewell as the Ambassador’s ‘wife’ Hal Wyler. Hal happens to be a former Ambassador himself and, understandably, finds it a challenge not to butt in with his two-cents worth given his experience, instead of just playing a secondary supporting spousal role to his life partner.

Rory Kinnear is Nicol Trowbridge, a somewhat impetuous UK Prime Minister albeit he’s nowhere as buffoonish as the real Boris Johnson which we presume he’s modelled after. Michael McKean is President William Rayburn (POTUS), an amiable leader of the freeworld having to deal with a problematic Vice-President and a US Secretary of State (Miguel Sandoval) who it appears hates the Wylers and may be after the Presidency himself. David Gyasi is his counterpart, a most dashing UK Foreign Secretary Austin Dennison whom Kate appears to develop a close working relationship with. Celie Imrie makes a small but not insignificant contribution as Margaret Roylin, an old but influential Tory Party power broker in the background.

Watching the series took me right back to my days working closely with the diplomatic world, when I was project architect for the new Ministry of Foreign Affairs HQ in Singapore.
Of course, this was a very different side of the action; eg. selecting the right colour tint of bullet proof glass in Italy for the foreign minister’s office, having a late night shouting match with the interior designer (sorry Lydia Fong) over a last minute design change request involving a pressed metal ceiling in the ceremonial visitor’s lobby and watching the daily duty officer in action in their secure command centre, receiving situational reports coming in from their international diplomatic missions.
And then again being project director for the construction of the new Singapore Embassy in Yangon.
The feel, pulse and verbosity of the series is reminiscent of the West Wing, in which we are gloriously allowed to be voyeurs into one strategic or revealing private conversation to the next, and relationships could veer off into the most unexpected of directions. Fans of Aaron Sorkin’s TV writing should enjoy this show.
As is to be expected, the series ends on a huge cliffhanger and we have to patiently wait for a second season—as yet still unconfirmed and potentially only to be released in 2024, if it goes ahead—to see what becomes of Kate Wyler, her marriage and, more importantly, her stellar career prospects! We can’t want for Season 2, and can only hope, if there is a follow-up season, that it’ll be as tight and well-executed as Season 1.