Finding a good show on Netflix can sometimes feel like a fishing expedition.
The sheer volume of content can make it difficult for something to stand out and command attention.
The Diplomat rises above the fray as an intelligent drama with a warm and witty feel and doesn’t take its foot off the accelerator from the opening credits through the season’s finale episode.
It’s no surprise because creator and showrunner Debora Cahn is no stranger to political dramas.
Like The West Wing and Homeland before it, The Diplomat focuses on a particular government entity and dramatically brings it to life for viewers with its relatable characters and topical direction.
Keri Russell leads The Diplomat as Kate Wyler, the new US Ambassador to the UK.
It’s not a station she would have chosen, but when duty calls, she accepts, never failing to remind anyone where she’d rather be — on the front lines in the Middle East, where she feels at home.
But while Kate and her husband, fellow diplomat Hal Wyler (Rufus Sewell), live the high life in a historic British home, they’ll discover that there’s just as much on the line in London as there is in Afghanistan. It’s just the players that are different.
Watching Kate and Hal in action brings to light Russell’s well-known role in The Americans with her husband, Matthew Rhys, as Elizabeth and Philip Jennings.
The Russian spies needed to be adept in any situation, and the same goes for Kate and Hal. They’re excellent in most crisis situations with heads of various states, except the state of their marriage.
Like many women, Kate allowed Hal to take the lead in their marriage. His job came first, and she kept herself in the background. Her new job as Ambassador puts her in the driver’s seat with Hal as the passenger, and it’s a dynamic that takes some getting used to.
The Diplomat is described as “a high-stakes, contemporary political drama about the transcendence and torture of long-term relationships between countries and people.”
In that vein, it shows how far people will go for a professional relationship while they allow their personal ones to wither and die on the vine.
Kate is excellent at her job, as is her husband. They had a partnership when he was an ambassador that found her instrumental in much of his success.
Now, they’re trying to put the shoe on the other foot to see if Hal can take a backseat while still being an essential part of Kate’s narrative.
It’s not easy, and The Diplomat does remarkably well to show how you can be so in tune with your partner in some respects but entirely out of touch in others.
Russell and Sewell play beautifully off each other, and there are as many moments you hope they work it out as there are those you want them to be far, far away from one another.
The distressed state of their marriage plays perfectly against the competent efficiency with which they maneuver through the most delicate political issues.
Professionally, Kate is thrown into the deep end of British affairs from the moment she steps off the plane, which aggravates the Secretary of State (Miguel Sandoval), who believes he should address any real business.
But President Rayburn (Michael McKean) and his top aide, Billie (Nana Mensah), have big plans for Kate that require her to make her mark quickly and with great finesse, which means hitting the ground running.
Kate’s assigned a capable and affable right-hand man in Stuart (Ato Essandoh), who has a very beneficial relationship with the CIA’s Eidra (Ali Ahn).
With them and her liaison in the Prime Minister’s office, Austin Dennison (David Gyasi), the Ambassador navigates the rough waters stirred by Prime Minister Nicol Trowbridge (an always entertaining Rory Kinnear) as he strives to carve out a historical niche for himself.
Kate’s a no-fuss and to-the-point woman, directly conflicting with how people believe she should carry herself in her new position. She rails against stylists hoping to turn her into a style icon with billowy, feminine dresses and light-colored suits when she prefers the dark and tailored that becomes her.
How she deals with that problem, successfully proving how and why her style works, indicates Kate’s charm in foreign affairs. She doesn’t need window dressing when she has facts and common sense on her side.
Kate quickly wins over detractors, which is precisely why she’s in the spotlight for something significant on the horizon.
The series is both fun and frenetic. There’s plenty of humor on hand to temper the more serious stories without making a mockery of them.
The cast is engaging to a fault — you just can’t get enough of the characters or the actors that portray them.
The show fires on all cylinders, deftly interweaving its political and personal stories for eight thrilling episodes. Every minute is well-utilized; you never lament languishing anywhere for too long.
Simply put, it’s one of my favorite shows of the year so far, and I fully expect a second season announcement to be made shortly after launch.
The only negative about The Diplomat is that it drops, as do all Netflix shows, all at once. This kind of show would work so well with weekly drops because there is a lot to explore and discuss.
I’ll keep hoping that someday, Netflix will see the benefit of allowing a slow burn of a great show that will bring viewers back to the platform and enable sites like ours to fawn all over it the entire time.
All eight episodes of The Diplomat will be available on Thursday, April 20.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.