The Netflix binge model, while obviously very appealing to viewers frustrated with the traditional weekly TV schedule, can sometimes do a disservice to shows that need time to build buzz and public awareness. The streamer’s terrific new political drama The Diplomat, for example, barely premiered two weeks ago yet already seems to have fallen out of the conversation about exciting new programming, buried under the hype for a dozen or more new shows that followed on its heels.
The series’ first season may only run eight episodes, but I have a lot to watch these days and it took me a while to get through them. In that time, the show’s brief bubble of buzz has mostly already faded. It must have done fairly well, enough for Netflix to officially announce its renewal for a second season, but I hardly see anyone talking about it anymore. On Netflix, if a show isn’t a monster hit out of the gate (as The Night Agent apparently was, inexplicably), you’d hardly know it ever existed at all a week later.
|Number of Episodes:||8|
|Release Date:||Apr. 20, 2023|
The Diplomat comes from Debora Cahn, formerly a writer and producer on The West Wing. That show’s imprint is felt very strongly on this one. The series also very effectively fills a void on Netflix since the end of House of Cards.
Keri Russell stars as Kate Wyler, a strong-willed and clear-headed career diplomat who’s spent years preparing for a posting in Afghanistan, where she anticipates doing some very difficult but very important work holding together America’s political relations in the Middle East. Those plans fall to pieces when she’s asked – or more accurately, told – to serve as the country’s new ambassador to the United Kingdom instead. Although a very cushy position that just about anyone else would envy, Kate feels that the job isn’t substantive enough for her attention. She has no patience for the ceremonial pomp of fancy-dress events and hates giving speeches, both of which seem to be her main duties now. The United States already has a very strong “special relationship” with England. Her talents would be best served preventing war in more contentious regions.
As it turns out, England brings a lot more drama than she expected. Kate’s last-minute change of assignment was prompted by a terrorist attack on a British naval ship that killed 41 servicemen. When initial signs point to Iran being the culprit, the hothead British Prime Minister (Rory Kinnear) vows to “rain hellfire” on Tehran. It falls to Kate, and her British counterpart the Foreign Secretary (David Gyasi), to talk him down until all the evidence can be analyzed and the truth be determined. In doing so, they also need to find an alternative type of reprisal that will allow the PM to save face before a critical election.
The story has a lot of twists, and the crisis grows enormously more complicated seemingly minute-by-minute. The show’s writing is incredibly sharp across the whole season. The plotting is suspenseful, the dialogue is smart (and frequently hilarious), and the characters are all vividly defined. The series is an outstanding starring vehicle for Russell, who plays Kate with fierce intelligence and quick wit.
The best aspect of the show is Kate’s very messy relationship with her husband, Hal (Rufus Sewell), a former ambassador himself from whose shadow she can’t ever seem to escape. The more he meddles in her affairs and appears to be trying to upstage her for his own career benefit, the more infuriated she grows with him. The two of them respect and perhaps even still love each other, even when they drive each other crazy, which is most of the time.
The Diplomat excels on just about every level, from storytelling to the performances by every single cast member, even those who might seem out of place at first glance. (Michael McKean is a delight as the cantankerous American President.) I can’t think of a single false note the entire season strikes. It may be one of the best TV shows of the year. Whether it will be recognized as such at awards season, or completely forgotten by then, remains to be seen.
Maybe I’m wrong and this series is actually a big hit that will run for years. I hope so, but the nature of Netflix’s business model worries me. At the very least, however, we should be getting at least one more season out of it. I very much look forward to that.
Netflix streams The Diplomat in 4K HDR at an aspect ratio of 2.20:1. The show’s visuals aren’t necessarily flashy, but the 4K image is extremely sharp with rich contrasts and lovely deep colors. The application of HDR is both very naturalistic and almost stealthily vibrant. It looks great.
I don’t know that the show’s soundtrack really needed to be mixed in Dolby Atmos. It honestly doesn’t have much notable going on in either the surround or overhead speakers. (A plane flyover in the second episode is about the only time my height speakers called attention to themselves.) That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the audio. The musical score sounds pretty good, with nice low-end from both a cello and some electronic bass.