The Diplomat: Think Emily in Paris crossed with Hogwarts and a Boris Johnson after-party

Television: Netflix’s new series, starring Keri Russell, is an overcooked example of the streamer’s ‘American goes abroad and is confused’ genre

Remember when everybody wanted to talk like characters from an Aaron Sorkin drama? This was back in the heyday of Sorkin’s West Wing, a love letter to pre-Trump liberal politics and, even more so, a valentine to speaking quickly while speed-walking through your place of work (bonus points for doing so while clutching a vast takeout coffee).

Those days are a long time ago, which may be why The Diplomat (Netflix, from today) feels so past its sell-by date. The showrunner is Debora Cahn, a graduate of the West Wing writers’ room, and you can perhaps hear the Sorkin effect in dialogue that aims for whip-smart but lands on painfully verbose.

Keri Russell plays Kate, an American career diplomat all set to take up a job in Kabul when a complicated international emergency involving Iran and the British navy results in her reassignment to the UK. She’s Uncle Sam’s new woman in Blighty, a country The Diplomat imagines as a cross between Hogwarts and a Boris Johnson after-party.

Everyone is posh but a bit cheap and nasty too – none more so than Prime Minister Nicol Trowbridge. He’s played by Rory Kinnear, who previously portrayed a British political leader in the notorious episode of Black Mirror involving a pig and ... well, best not go there. Here he must have been told to play the PM as BoJo on ketamine: he is noxiously chummy, with eyes that bulge like Kermit the Frog’s after an all-night rave.


Then there’s his name. Is “Nicol Trowbridge” an anagram for something rude? He sounds more like a Viz character – “Nicol Trowbridge and his Supernatural Sandwich” – than the anti-hero in a cool political thriller.

But then The Diplomat isn’t cool at all. It is, rather, the overcooked latest example of Netflix’s “American goes abroad and is confused” genre. It’s already had a hit with Emily in Paris. Here the fish-out-of-water chemistry is much the same. About the only substantive difference is that, instead of a quarter-life crisis in a beret, Russell’s character flusters about imposing office buildings and country houses.

Kate has been accessorised with a louche husband named Hal. He’s a former diplomat nonplussed at playing second fiddle to his less-experienced wife. The quirk is that, in this drama full of plummy Englishmen, the ruffled American is portrayed by the real-life plummy Englishman Rufus Sewell.

He does his best with the underwritten part. Sadly, not even Netflix’s almighty algorithm can compensate for Sewell’s unconvincing American accent. He makes Hugh Laurie in House sound like Clint Eastwood in a poncho.

Russell comes to The Diplomat having starred in one of the greatest TV dramas of recent years, The Americans. That show was a taut portrait of Russian sleeper agents in Ronald Reagan’s United States. The Diplomat, by contrast, is a ridiculous caper that struggles to keep a straight face. It will be best enjoyed if you leave your brain at the door – because that’s exactly what the screenwriters appear to have done.