'The Diplomat' Review: Keri Russell, Rufus Sewell Star in Netflix Show
The Diplomat. (L to R) Rufus Sewell as Hal Wyler, Keri Russell as Kate Wyler in episode 104 of The Diplomat. Cr. Alex Bailey/Netflix © 2023

‘The Diplomat’ Review: Keri Russell, Rufus Sewell Star in Netflix Show

Fans of FX’s popular Cold War drama “The Americans” will undoubtedly check out “The Diplomat” in the hopes that Keri Russell’s next political thriller can fill the heart-pumping void the hit series left behind in 2018. They shouldn’t — at least, not for that reason.

Though “The Americans” and “The Diplomat” share a star, as well as a similar focus on marital power struggles, the new series from “Homeland” executive producer Debora Cahn is less gritty spy thriller and more soapy workplace drama. Throughout the show’s eight, hour-long episodes, I found myself thinking of “The Diplomat” as a Shondaland-inspired take on “The West Wing,” which makes sense considering Cahn cut her teeth as a writer on both “Grey’s Anatomy” and Aaron Sorkin’s NBC series.

While serving as lead actor and an executive producer on the project, Russell delivers yet another stellar performance as Kate Wyler, a brusque career diplomat preparing for her turn as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan when her mission is derailed by the bombing of a British aircraft carrier off the coast of Iran. Suddenly, Kate is forcibly thrust into the largely ceremonial role of ambassador to the United Kingdom. Bristling over the position’s supposed lack of substance —it has an overabundance of fashion shoots — Kate finds herself torn between playing by the typical rules of diplomacy and inserting herself into the CIA’s terrorist investigation.

Up against bumbling world leaders and an unfamiliar political landscape, Kate’s biggest hurdle also happens to be one of her most valuable assets: Her charismatic rogue of a husband, Hal Wyler (Rufus Sewell). After being benched from his own ambassadorships for repeatedly running his mouth, Hal finds himself playing second fiddle to his wife for the first time in their 15-year marriage. At its best, “The Diplomat” is driven by the contrast between Kate’s cautious pragmatism and Hal’s impulsive, yet often effective, manipulations as he attempts to mold her into a political juggernaut.

Though fast-paced and bingeable, “The Diplomat” never really lands on a consistent tone, struggling to find the right balance between its biting social commentary and attempts at grounded bureaucratic drama, which often clashes with the characters’ irreverent banter and sexy interoffice dalliances (it seems everyone at the U.S. Embassy is getting some — even Kate’s overworked second-in-command finds time to sleep with the effortlessly cool CIA chief of station on a regular basis). This lack of cohesion made it somewhat difficult to invest in the mystery surrounding the attack against Britain, which never feels as high-stakes as it should, despite supposedly placing the country on the brink of an “apocalyptic” war.

You’d be surprised how little this bothered me for the first six episodes, considering there was so much else to latch onto — from Kate and Hal’s toxic codependency, to the evolution of Kate’s relationships with her staff and British allies as she’s quietly being vetted for the role of Vice President of the United States. Then there’s the intense chemistry between Russell and Sewell.

It’s difficult to imagine Russell ever surpassing the palpable on-screen bond she shared with her “Americans” co-star Matthew Rhys, who became her real-life partner throughout filming the FX series. And yet, Russell and Sewell project a level of casual intimacy that takes some scene partners years to cultivate. Seriously, who would have thought there could be anything sexy about Kate wordlessly shoving an armpit in Hal’s face so he could conduct a smell test before her meeting with the hot British Foreign Secretary (​​David Gyasi)?

But is there such a thing as too much chemistry? “The Diplomat” loses a bit of its luster every time Russell and Sewell are kept apart too long, which becomes a more glaring issue when the international crisis reaches its climax in the final two episodes. Even so, I can’t help rooting for a second season of ”The Diplomat,” which ends with a satisfyingly twist and game-changing, if emotionally manipulative cliffhanger. As long as you go into your next binge looking for a series more akin to “Scandal” than “Bodyguard,” you’re in for an entertaining ride.

All eight episodes of “The Diplomat” drop on Netflix on April 20.