2023, TV

The Diplomat (2023)

For a long time, the way I’ve reviewed TV shows is to review when when I’ve completed the show or when I’ve complete the first season – if I’m not sure I’ll continue – or when I give up. This strikes me as silly, mostly because it often takes me years to complete a show. So if I don’t write a review of the first season, I forget by the time I get to the end. But, also, if I only review the first season and then try to review the whole thing years later, I probably won’t do a good job of remembering the intervening seasons. None of this is important for anyone but me, but with Trapped I started adding season reviews and that seems to work better. So hopefully I’ll do that instead from now on.


Season 1 of The Diplomat

There are definitely some things to really like about this show about an American ambassador to the UK who is secretly being groomed for [SPOILER]. The cast is excellent. It’s quite funny at times. It moves with an extremely brisk pace that doesn’t really let you stop and think. I think, for what it is, it’s pretty well executed and the show is quite entertaining.

But I have qualms.

The first is a silly “realism” qualm. I’m not sure if something like this – something getting an ambassadorship specifically to groom them for a much bigger position – would ever happen. Though Russell’s character really feels like a real person, and she is great in the role, the character also feels way, way too messy for the kind of role she’s supposedly being groomed for. And then, stuff just happens that I think there’s no way the American ambassador to the UK would ever been involved in. The worst of those in when she just goes to France because, apparently, there is no American ambassador to France. But there are lots of little things that feel a little false. (Really, they feel more like there is a strong desire to not introduce more characters and so they go slightly Battlestar Galatica on us and have major characters doing things they’d never be allowed to do in real life.)

A bigger qualm is the tonal shift near the end of the first season. They do try to give you some warning (which I missed) when there is a serious conversation, but these things are hard to do and I’m not sure this was as well-handled as it could have been, if it was even necessary. Because the big cliff hanger ending of the final episode of the first season feels like it is from another show, and to me felt a little bit like shark jumping.

But my biggest qualm is just the way this show sees American influence in the world. It critiques it mildly, rather consistently but, at the same time, it just keeps reaffirming that (certain) Americans know best and the British (and the French) must take their lead from the (certain) Americans. This is most explicit in the weird relationship between Russell’s character and Gyasi’s character, wherein Russell is almost always in charge and almost always right. I doubt that’s how this really works and I can’t imagine a British person would like it this way. (I get why American women like it. I would love to hear what Brits think about this show which absolutely casts them in a subservient role.) The whole thing is kind of icky and it’s not made less icky by the show occasionally acknowledging the US’s numerous recent international disasters. (The Iraq War is used as a joke about how the Americans can’t be trusted but they did cause the deaths of at least 500,000 people just during the official war itself, not to mention the occupation afterwards. So, you know, I think it’s fair for the entire rest of the world to think the Americans should stay out of things.)

The show is also soapier than I enjoy but I don’t think I would care that much if it was just a little more comic, a little less serious and whole lot less pro-America as world police diplomats.


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