Why Netflix’s The Diplomat should be your next box set
Ivan Radford | On 08, May 2023
From Homeland to Veep, the world of modern political TV often can’t decide whether it wants to be the new 24 or The West Wing – or, in the case of Designated Survivor, a bit of both. Netflix’s The Diplomat has taken a different approach and decided to be the new Scandal – and it’s all the better for it.
The show follows Kate Wyler (Keri Russell), a diplomat who is appointed to the UK to be the USA’s new ambassador. She arrives, accompanied by her husband, Hal (Rufus Sewell), just as a British aircraft carrier is attached in the Persian Gulf, sending tensions between the US, UK and Iran skyrocketing. And so she tries to work out how to get along with Prime Minister Nicol Trowbridge (Rory Kinnear) and Foreign Secretary Austin (David Gyasi), without undermining the grouchy US Secretary of State (Miguel Sandoval) and the rambunctious President Rayburn (Michael McKean), as well as keeping the ambitious and deceitful Hal from causing an international incident. All the while, she’s secretly being monitored to work out if she could be a good candidate for US Vice President.
The result plays out like several different series at once, but showrunne Debora Cahn manages the unlikely feat of pulling that off by leaning into both the soap operatics and the political drama. The Diplomat takes the relationship tensions seriously, as Kate looks to move away from Hal even as he remains determined to stay by her side and make himself as relevant as possible – the moment there’s talk of leaks and secret meetings, Kate’s immediate question is what Hal is up to, and Rufus Sewell’s scene-stealing performance is slimy yet charming enough to justify it.
But there are also political plot twists aplenty, from kidnapping and secret messages to heated confrontations that are just on the right side of vaguely plausible. It helps that the supporting ensemble are so entertaining, from McKean’s reckless POTUS and David Gyasi’s ruthless Foreign Secretary to Rory Kinnear’s slightly untrustworthy and desperate energy as the PM. Ali Ahn’s alert CIA station chief Eidra and Ato Essandoh’s endearingly honest deputy chief of mission Stuart hold together all the subplots with a light enough tone to stop things getting overly serious.
The star of the show, though, is undoubtedly Keri Russell, and she’s sensational as the straight-talking, experienced diplomat. The more Russell finds surprising depth in her leading lady, the more fun it is to watch Kate – both professionally and personally – outdo everyone’s expectations of her, proving herself to be a competent and calm player who you’d love to see on a real-life ballot pape. That’s the surefire sign of success for any political TV show – the fact that The Diplomat is bingeable and entertaining to boot makes Netflix’s vote for a second season a natural one.