Growing up I remember the buzz around shows such as The West Wing and The Wire. I fell in love with them once I was able to stream them and understand their significance, but it’s not the same as participating in cultural shifts during their time. Luckily, I got the chance to enjoy The Diplomat at its intended moment. The new #1 Netflix series was created by Deborah Cahn and her experience shows – she was on staff for The West Wing, Vinyl, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and more.
My first draw to the show was Keri Russell, whom I’ve been a fan of since I was a child and watched Felicity every week. In The Diplomat, she portrays Kate Wyler, an experienced no-nonsense ambassador who was expecting to go to Kabul. Instead, she’s thrust into the U.S. Embassy in London just as a British aircraft carrier explodes in a suspected terrorist attack (light spoilers ahead). Kate doesn’t have an easy first day.
She arrives in London with her husband Hal Wyler (Rufus Sewell), a career diplomat with tricks of his own. Seemingly affable, talkative, and friendly, Hal turns out to be problematic as we slowly learn that the Wylers’ successful marriage and partnership isn’t what it looks like.
Though the couple is the focal point of the show, The Diplomat also enjoys a multicultural cast, many of whom have substantial roles. Due to its location, there are some stellar performances by UK actors such as T’Nia Miller (Cecilia Dennison), David Gyasi (Austin Dennison), Bijan Daneshmand (Rasoul Shahin), and Rory Kinnear (Prime Minister Nicol Trowbridge). On the US side, Nana Mensah (Billie Appiah), Ato Essandoh (Stuart Heyford), and Ali Ahn (Eidra Park) are major players in orchestrating or solving many of the problems that arise as the show unfolds.
The first episode sets up Kate Wyler as a career diplomat who is unhappy about the cushy options and possible tedium of working out of London. Based on what we learn about her past experience, we can glean that her expertise in Middle East relations, specifically Afghanistan, might go to waste in a city like London. Soon, we learn that the powers that be have ulterior motives for placing her in the post.
US staffers Eidra Park and Stuart Heyford are instrumental in helping Kate understand what’s so “special” about US-UK relations with the show weaving in real-life issues, such as Brexit, the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tensions between the US and Russia into its fictitious backdrop.
Along with giving us a dose of facts and realism, The Diplomat also displays some of the characters’ more unsavory moments. This includes strong reactions in the workplace, details about intimate relationships and potential marriage arrangements, and comments about the politics of workplace attire.
The witty back and forth between characters isn’t just showing off though – it provides pivotal information and clues that piques curiosity. Essentially, this is television that reminds us that dialog can still be entertaining. Despite the high-stakes nature of the embroilments Kate Wyler encounters, it’s her words that make the difference. We also see her deal with red tape and other protocols that can prove a nuisance, negotiating her way into getting what she wants. And she does it through the show’s plentitude of backdoor deals, garden conversations, and favors.
My final observation as I watched The Diplomat is that it features many women over 30 and 40 in significant roles. It’s tough to break barriers in one season that features only eight episodes, but The Diplomat does it, tackling pressing issues in its plot and in its casting with dialogue that sparkles.
The Diplomat is now available for streaming on Netflix.