The Diplomat doesn’t make it easy for viewers to get invested, but those who stick with it will find a very smart, very funny political thriller bolstered by excellent performances and razor-sharp writing.
This review of the 2023 Netflix series The Diplomat Season 1 does not contain spoilers.
The Diplomat is a show with obvious disdain for Britain, America, and politics in general, which is odd since it’s an American show set in Britain revolving around politics.
And yet here we are.
The Diplomat Season 1 review and plot summary
Despite quite often being very serious about a great many things, from relationships to international relations to foreign policy, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Brexit, and the illusion of democracy in Western superpowers, it isn’t really to be taken seriously. Not completely, anyway.
The plot revolves around Kate Wyler (Keri Russell), a U.S. diplomat who takes her job very seriously and has a wealth of experience in legitimate crisis zones. She’s expecting her first ambassadorial posting to take her to Kabul, where she can affect real change, but she’s instead unexpectedly whisked to the U.K. for reasons she isn’t initially made privy to.
The posting is a facile one. A British warship, the HMS Courageous, has been attacked off the coast of Iran by persons unknown, but everyone assumes it’s the Iranians as retaliation for something vague that the American administration did. Kate’s there to smooth things over by posing on the cover of British Vogue, wearing dresses, and swanning around a palatial British estate drinking tea and eating crumpets.
READ: TV Shows like The Diplomat you must watch
No such luck. Kate’s girl-boss get-sh*t-done pantsuit attitude quickly gets her embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens war between three nations, all while trying to navigate a failing marriage to her beloved former ambassador husband, Hal (Rufus Sewell), and a swelling romance with an implausibly hunky British Foreign Secretary played by David Gyasi.
Is The Diplomat good or bad?
It’s good, this. Sometimes really good. It’s as much a relationship drama as a political thriller and as much a comedy as either, so it moves between genres and tones with relentless enthusiasm and strings them together with surprisingly sharp writing. Showrunner Debora Cahn previously worked as a writer and producer on Homeland and The West Wing, and it’s the latter that’s most evoked here, to enjoyable if familiar effect.
It’s the performances, too. Russell is obviously great as a very serious woman coming apart at the seams, trying to spin plates with hands that are supposed to be patting useless politicians on the back, but it’s Sewell who steals every scene he’s in like he’s making off with a bounty of cheese and grapes from the pantry at Chevening House (which at one point he actually does.)
The Diplomat knows Sewell is having a good time and consistently matches his energy. The eight episodes, all long-ish at 45 minutes or above, fly by, mostly because they move at quite a clip and know when to deploy a plot swerve, a set-piece, or a low-key character moment. This show won’t get the credit it deserves for its pacing, but it’s worth pointing out.
Is The Diplomat worth watching?
The contempt helps, too, especially if you’re rightly disenfranchised by contemporary politics. It’s an easy recommendation for those who see the inherent ridiculousness of Rory Kinnear playing a spineless British Prime Minister trying to reinvent himself as a no-nonsense Churchillian orator on the back of a geopolitical crisis. You’re supposed to get the joke.
I don’t know if it has long-term legs, even if the finale suggests that’s what we’re angling for, since it’s off-putting in the early going. It has no intention of easing you in and holding your hand through a flurry of character introductions, political terminology, and buzzwords, referencing both real and made-up events with the same kind of rapid-fire delivery that expects you to have enough cursory knowledge of geopolitics to follow along. You don’t need a degree or anything, but reading the news now and again and perhaps looking out of a window will help, which is admittedly asking a lot of most contemporary audiences trained – by platforms like Netflix, ironically – to consume their media on 1.5x speed with their phone in their hand.
But stick with it. The Diplomat is very smart and very good, and probably smarter and better in hindsight once you know where it’s all going. You’ll get out what you put in, too. The whole thing’s packed with nuance and detail that’ll be lost on a viewer only half-watching. Give it a good look, and you’ll see something well worth paying attention to.
What did you think of the 2023 Netflix series The Diplomat Season 1? Comment below.
1 thought on “The Diplomat Season 1 Review – very smart, very funny, and very good”
I love the pace and the structure. I love the intelligence and the unexpected direction of the several plots. Just a pleasure to watch. I started watching it then realized it was over…all 8 episodes. Too bad