TV review: Ambassadors has a great cast but it's unlikely to earn a lasting place in our affections
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Wednesday 23 October 2013
No, sorry, it's not as funny as Peep Show, but Ambassadors, the new David Mitchell and Robert Webb collaboration, which began last night, isn't really meant to be. Written by James Wood (Rev) and Rupert Walters (Spooks), it's set in the fictional central Asian republic of Tazbekistan, where British Ambassador Keith Davis (Mitchell) has arrived in post following the mysterious death of his predecessor. Aiding the ambassador are seasoned deputy head of mission Neil Tilly (Webb) and his wife, Jennifer (Keeley Hawes), plus sarky head of consular Caitlin (Susan Lynch).
The more damaging comparison for Ambassadors is not to Peep Show, but to Armando Iannucci's government satire, The Thick of It. Despite the relocation, Ambassadors takes place in the same milieu of disgruntled civil servants and doomed PR initiatives, only the machinations aren't as devious, the swearing isn't as inventive and the tenor isn't quite so cynical.
It may be hard for Peep Show fans to conceive, but there was even a scene in last night's episode where our two heroes had a serious, well-informed discussion about the ethical implications of prioritising Britain's trade interests above local human rights concerns. You expected Super Hans to turn up at any moment with a spliff to break the tension.
The greatest strength of Ambassadors is its cast, and Webb was a particular pleasure to watch. After so long playing a total wally, it was simply fascinating to see him as a competent, practical employee. There was also Matthew Macfadyen as the Foreign Office boss back in London.
Future episodes promise cameos from Tom Hollander and Michael Smiley. However, without its own niche to fill, it's hard to see how Ambassadors will manage to earn a long-lasting place in our affections. Can't Peep Show just go on for ever, please?
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre