Today we’re going to take a trip across the pond to look at a new show from two of my favorite comedic duos: David Mitchell and Robert Webb. I’m telling you right off the bat that I’m biased towards the success of this show and went into the first two episodes hoping I’d like it. Some of you might know Mitchell and Webb from their Mitchell and Webb sketch comedy show (here’s a peak). And, of course, they’re the minds behind the genius that is Peep Show. Also, let us not forget that Mitchell is part of what might be the best panel show in Britain: Would I Lie to You?
So you can imagine how excited I was to be getting new material from these guys, yet, deep down, I maintained the worry that they would continue their dynamic from Peep Show and have Mitchell be the smart, yet anti-social loser, while Robert plays the lovable idiot. After two episodes, I’m happy to report that this does not seem to be the case. Their characters so far have actually been vastly different from what I’ve gotten used to, and yet, there’s still a hint of familiarity there for long time fans to cling to.
David Mitchell plays Keith Davis, the british ambassador to a fictitious central asian country called Tazbekistan, an islamic nation where, for some reason, they speak russian (kudos to the show for at least attempting to get everyone to speak real russian instead of just gibberish). Keith Davis is a man who has to make complicated decisions, and will reluctantly do the moral thing over the politically advantageous thing. In the first episode we see a confrontation between him and Neil Tilly, his right hand man, who accuses him of making decisions for his own political gain over what is actually right, and shuts Neil down pretty hard… sort of. Similar to Mitchell’s character Mark on Peep show, we see the ambassador with an ability to be conniving when he needs to be, but that’s where the similarity pretty much ends. Unlike Mark, Keith is kind and loving with his family, and actually cares about his job and the people around him. Having said that, he does have that tinge of darkness to him. In the first few minutes of the show, he’s on a hunting trip with the right hand man of Tazbekistan’s President and accidentally kills an ibex, the national animal of Tazbekistan. He proceeds to pay off his hunting partner and blame the french ambassador for the death, with whom he is competing with for a helicopter contract.
We also see the selfless side form him (SPOILERS) at the end of the episode. He finally wins favor with the president, and uses his favor to free a british political prisoner who would be executed for his crimes, thus losing out on the helicopter contract to the french and getting berated by his boss. This is the kind of choice Mark would have never made unless there was some way for him to also take advantage of the decision. We also see that Keith is warm and loving with his wife and daughter, something that is not at all found in Mark.
Robert Webb, plays Neil Tilly, Keith’s right hand man in the embassy. Neil as a character is even more different from Jeremy, than Keith is from Mark. Neil is presented to us as the moral guide for Keith, constantly pushing keith to make the human rights decisions over the politically advantageous decisions. He also, inexplicably loves living and working in Tazbekistan, a country that mostly every other visitor hates with a passion. We also find out early on that he is being blackmailed by an unnamed party who are threatening to send photos to his boss that show him paying someone off. In exchange for keeping the photos from his boss’ hands so that he can remain in Tazbekistan, Neil is forced to hand over whatever limited amount of state secrets he has access to. Again we have a character that is far more complicated than Webb’s previous character. On the one hand, he pushes Keith to save the prisoner’s life over getting the helicopter contract, yet on the other he divulges secrets to his blackmailer so that he can stay in the country. We also still have the wonderful chemistry between Webb’s and Mitchell’s characters that we’ve grown used to over the years. Webb and Mitchell play off each other perfectly, in a way that could only be done by two people who have been around each other so long. The scenes where just the two of them are dealing with each other might be some of the more golden moments on the show.
The rest of the cast is pretty strong too, but there are a few too many for each to get their own section. There’s the cook, who is perpetually determined to only make pilaf and other tazbeki food over anything british. Isabella is an embassy employee who works under Keith, but her intelligence and drive makes her confrontational with Keith as she tries to circumvent him whenever she can. Natalia is a third employee at the embassy, and a tazbeki native who helps organize events and handles the social aspects of the embassy’s dealings. She’s a bit naive to the intentions of other brits who visit the country, but strong enough to deal with them when she figures out what they want from her. The best supporting character however, might be the tazbeki president’s right hand man, Jamatt. He clearly comes off as the brains behind the tazbeki operation, and winning favor with him is gaining favor with the president. He too likes to walk the fine line between personal gain and gain for his nation. He’ll take a bribe on something that’s not so serious, then present faux rage for the “escape” of a prisoner who the country is better off without anyway. Finally, the President himself is a pretty great character. In public he comes off as the generic powerful military President, complete with all the machoism that comes with it. And yet, in moments of privacy and, more importantly, drunkenness, he will open up and be more serious about the issues ailing his country. Overall, Ambassadors has put together a perfect ensemble and is different enough from other political satires that it still feels fresh. I highly recommend people watch it, but it might be a bit difficult to do for people outside the UK. Hopefully my non-UK readers will find a way to watch it, because it’s a truly fun show.
For now though, here’s a small clip for your entertainment.