The Ambassadors goes for easy laughs in diplomatic caper - review
Not a peep out of the satirists who might have given David Mitchell and Robert Webb’s new show some edge
STANDARDS must be slipping at the Foreign Office. They’ve hired the two losers from Peep Show and sent them to Britain’s embassy in Tazbekistan.
In The Ambassadors, a new comedy drama from BBC2, David Mitchell and Robert Webb play the British ambassador and his deputy head of mission in the fictional Islamic republic. They’re charged with taking the edge off the regime’s undemocratic tendencies – while greasing the wheels for lucrative UK arms deals.
Mitchell and Webb have acknowledged that they feel some affinity with their Peep Show characters. It’s no surprise, then, to find Mitchell playing an uptight, borderline-competent careerist and Webb as his high-handed, devil-may-care deputy.
“These two are weirder than the last,” observes the Tazbek security officer who spies on their every move. And that’s saying something: rumour has it that the previous ambassador has fled to Islamabad and taken up transvestitism.
Too often in comedy dramas, the comedy deflates the drama or the drama weighs down the comedy. The Ambassadors sidesteps both of these traps, keeping the laughs and the plot ticking along, but it lacks any real satirical bite.
The tone is gentle, even old-fashioned, owing more to Dad's Army than to Peep Show. Even when Mitchell embarks on the kind of barnstorming rant for which he is renowned, the humour is essentially conservative. It has in its sights not the demeaning compromise of international relations, but a preening actor and a self-regarding activist who find themselves in need of consular assistance. Still, they both deserve it.
There are hints of darker twists to come – Webb’s character has ensnared himself in some kind of shady dealing – but for now the writers are content to portray British foreign policy as absurd but essentially well-meaning.
Given our past and present diplomatic entanglements, that feels like a missed opportunity. ·