Analysis

The Diplomat vs The Diplomat: which is better – Netflix’s political thriller or Alibi’s crime drama?

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In early 2023, Alibi released a crime drama called The Diplomat - followed swiftly by Netflix's political thriller of the same name. Which is better?

The Diplomat follows Kate Wyler (Keri Russell), a career diplomat and civil servant. She’s about to take a position in Kabul as the US ambassador to Afghanistan, continuing to carry out the behind-the-scenes procedural work she’s dedicated herself to for so long. After an unexpected attack on a British naval carrier, though, the job of US ambassador to the UK – which was previously an essentially ceremonial position, bought and paid for by big campaign donors – becomes one of the most diplomatically significant roles for the US government overseas. Kate is redirected to London, forced to reckon with a major international crisis while adjusting to the unusual demands of a more public-facing role than she’d ever found herself in before. 

The Diplomat, meanwhile, follows Laura Simmonds (Sophie Rundle), a career diplomat and civil servant. She’s the UK consul in Barcelona, responsible for British nationals who find themselves in trouble in Catalan, a role effectively somewhere between lawyer, counsellor, and detective. When a young British barman dies under unexplained circumstances, Laura starts looking into his death at the request of the young man’s father – and, gradually, starts to uncover secrets that both the British and Spanish authorities will go to any lengths to keep hidden.

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It’s not completely unheard of for two unrelated television series to share the same name, but it’s considerably more unusual for them to debut as close to one another as The Diplomats did. The Diplomat aired not even a full two months after The Diplomat, with Alibi’s crime drama beginning on the last day of February and Netflix’s political thriller arriving in the middle of April. (The former, produced by World Productions and BBC Studios for Alibi, was announced in early 2020, and were it not for delays as a result of the coronavirus pandemic would likely have arrived on screens long before the Netflix iteration.)

Keri Russell as Kate Wyler in Netflix's The Diplomat; Sophie Rundle as Laura Simmonds in Alibi's The Diplomat (Credit: Netflix/UK TV)Keri Russell as Kate Wyler in Netflix's The Diplomat; Sophie Rundle as Laura Simmonds in Alibi's The Diplomat (Credit: Netflix/UK TV)
Keri Russell as Kate Wyler in Netflix's The Diplomat; Sophie Rundle as Laura Simmonds in Alibi's The Diplomat (Credit: Netflix/UK TV) | Netflix/UKTV

Beyond the obvious, the two share certain similarities. Both follow competent professionals dealing with crises that require, well, careful diplomacy: they’re about holding hushed conversations through gritted teeth in corridors of power and halls of influence, how the right word at the right time might topple a regime or save a life. Both see their leads navigate complex relationships in their personal lives, too, balancing that with the demands of their day job (Philippa Collie Cousins, an executive producer on Alibi’s The Diplomat, described the series as a little like The Good Wife, and you can very clearly feel the influence of that show on Netflix’s The Diplomat too). Both make for strong star vehicles for their leads, with Sophie Rundle and Keri Russell each getting the opportunity to demonstrate their considerable dramatic abilities. 

Indeed, the irony is that fans of one are generally likely to enjoy the other as well. They have different strengths, yes – none of the supporting cast in Netflix’s The Diplomat are as charismatic as Serena Manteghi’s Alba Ortiz, but Alibi’s The Diplomat never matches its counterpart’s political intrigue – but they’re each standouts in their genre, by some margin. Netflix’s The Diplomat is smartly made and effectively constructed, better at the details of being television than the endless bloated trudge of most streaming series; Alibi’s The Diplomat has a stronger handle on its characters and their dynamic than the majority of crime dramas on British television. Perhaps the biggest similarity The Diplomats share is simply that they’re both quite good. 

It’ll be a shame if Netflix’s The Diplomat entirely overshadows Alibi’s (or worse, leads to its cancellation, if international sales are complicated to the extent that funding for a future instalment can’t be secured). The best possible outcome – and the most appropriate diplomatic compromise, if you like – is that the popularity of the Netflix series directs more people to watch the Alibi version.

(After all, it’s the better one.)

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You can stream The Diplomat on NOW TV – and The Diplomat on Netflix, where both series are available to watch in full as part of a boxset. You can read our two-part interview with The Diplomat’s Serena Manteghi here and here.

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