Netflix is developing a new show, The Diplomat, starring Keri Russell as a career Foreign Service officer appointed as U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. I haven’t seen it, but in the spirit of the Washington Post (which just offered a rave review of Black Panther II based only on the two-minute trailer), I hereby offer a review of the series based on the one article I read about it and previous shows in this genre.
First, some predictions. The show will be:
- completely unrealistic;
- woker than an Oberlin gender studies major on Ritalin, and
- cancelled after one season, if not earlier.
Real life in a U.S. embassy does not make for compelling TV. It is hour after hour of meetings, emails, and writing reports to Washington.
In 2002, Fox had a show called The American Embassy which ran for only four episodes. It was also about a junior career diplomat working in the U.S. Embassy in London. In the first episode, she met a CIA agent and a lord. In the second, the embassy got bombed. In reality, her first two years would have been spent writing cables for her seven superiors to edit or interviewing visa applicants.
The CBS drama Madam Secretary, starring Téa Leoni as Secretary of State, lasted longer. A hot Secretary we can buy, but not her senior staff—a close-knit group of young, diverse, single hipsters. In real life, all you’d ever find on the State Department’s 7th floor is a mix of Deep State curmudgeons and sharp-elbowed political appointees.
To make diplomatic life entertaining, reality must be enhanced. Expect to see Russell’s “Kate Wyler” sail through her Senate confirmation in one episode or less, unlike real nominees who can wait months or years. And expect to see her sail through London’s notorious traffic, as well.
Wokeness is assured because, as a career officer, Russell’s character will have attended countless mandatory diversity and inclusion trainings at the State Department. And don’t look for her to be tarred with unsubstantiated “allegations of racist and sexist behavior,” like Trump-appointed ambassador Woody Johnson. If anything, she or her top assistant will be the victims of racist and sexist behavior, and they will have to spend an episode or two sorting out the bad guys.
The Diplomat’s creator wrote for the West Wing and Homeland. This gives us hope for snappy dialogue. But it also means we can expect the storylines to be as much about social justice as foreign relations. (Naturally, Kate Wyler’s backstory includes lots of human rights work.) Climate change, LGB+ rights, and the culture wars are certain to be plot themes. The Diplomat’s cast is bound to be younger, cuter, and way more diverse than any actual Foreign Service office. Odds are there will be a trans or “non-binary” character.
Of course, it’s possible that The Diplomat won’t go all out on progressive Hollywood values. Unlike most big media companies (looking at you, Disney), Netflix doesn’t reflexively cave to leftist pressure. CEO Ted Sarandos has defended popular and lucrative comics like Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais from woke cancel mobs. Perhaps Netflix values the millions of viewers who watched their comedy specials more than the “dozens of protesters” – from among Netflix’s 12,000 employees – who last year briefly walked off the job with a list of implausible demands.
After an incredible rise from mail-in DVDs to King of Streaming, Netflix has hit some speedbumps lately. Having lost a million subscribers in the last quarter, they are slowing the rain of cash thrown at creators to make in-house shows. The company has also laid off 450 employees and is introducing a new subscription tier with regular paid advertising breaks – or what we used to call “television.”
All this is to say: corporate patience will be thin. The Diplomat will have to hit some high audience figures from the start to make it. Because the subject is less familiar to audiences than vampires, aliens, and superheroes, I predict it won’t last beyond one season.
Despite my dire predictions, I’ll watch the show as long as it’s on. U.S. diplomats will be thrilled to see their little-known profession get some airtime, however short the run.
A former State Department official, Simon Hankinson is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Affairs.