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Movies & TV

20th Apr 2023

Netflix has just released its own version of The West Wing

Rory Cashin


Spoilers: it is actually a very entertaining show.

There is a lot of talk about the Netflix algorithm, and whether you believe it is a real thing that exists or not, you can’t help but feel like it has been ramped up to maximum capacity for The Diplomat. And in no way is that a bad thing.

Feeling like a compilation album – Now That’s What I Call Bingeing! – consisting of The West Wing, Homeland, The Americans, Bridgerton, The Crown, House of Cards, VEEP and probably a few more, Netflix’s new political drama is a little bit funny, a little bit thrilling, a little bit sexy, a little bit dramatic… and somehow all of those little bits successfully add up to a massively entertaining series.

On the eve of being sent to the Middle East as a US ambassador, the sudden bombing of a British aircraft carrier sees Kate (Keri Russell) suddenly shipped off by the American President to London to (A) find out who is responsible for the attack, and (B) calm everyone down before things take one step too many towards World War III.

What Kate doesn’t know is that this new position is actually a secret dry run for the Vice President position, the lady currently holding the job isn’t doing so great, one of the many not-so-subtle digs at the current real-life political climate. Making this all the more complicated is Kate’s husband Hal (Rufus Sewell), a former ambassador now shoved into the “wife” role, but can’t let go of the power and influence he still has within governments around the world. It also doesn’t help that while Kate and Hal still clearly love each other, they’re sleeping in separate bedrooms, their relationship proving too difficult to maintain properly.

Created by Debora Cahn, who unsurprisingly worked on both The West Wing and Homeland, the episodes are played fast and loose enough that they can switch from genre to genre in the blink of an eye. Kate and Hal can be in the midst of a hilarious screaming argument filled with hilarious one-liners, only for them to have to suddenly deal with a kidnapping situation and racism-fuelled attack on civilians the next.

With each of the episodes clocking in at around the hour mark, there is a slight slump when the over-arching plot involving that boat attack is stretched out a little too long, often pushed to one side to have the action-ready Kate have to deal with an interview for Vogue Magazine or a fancy photoshoot to win over the public. There is a great thread about politics being almost as much about PR as it is about actual, y’know, politics, and how Kate’s aversion to that side of the job is probably why she’s actually the best person for the job.

The fact that it works at all is a testament to the talent of everyone involved, but the fact that it works this well comes down to Russell and Sewell. They have tremendous chemistry together and separately, filling in some of their character’s grey space with looks and reactions and note-perfect dialogue delivery.

Everyone surrounding them is great in their supporting roles too, with special shout outs to the legendary Michael McKean as the US President, and Rory Kinnear as the UK Prime Minister, both initially seeming like loud but hollow buffoons before also adding interesting layered depths.

All eight episodes of The Diplomat are available to watch on Netflix from today (Thursday 20 April).

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