I started watching this most recent Mitchell and Webb project expecting something more like Peep Show or their sketch comedy offerings. Let me tell you right now, Ambassadors is something almost completely different. This three-part BBC Two dramedy is set in the fictional central Asian country of Tazbekistan. David Mitchell plays Keith Davis, newly appointed British ambassador to the former Soviet territory and Robert Webb plays his experienced Deputy Head of Mission, Neil Tilly.
The entire embassy team must work together to strike a balance that keeps both the corrupt Tazbek president and their own demanding government officials happy. Often faced with monetary versus human concerns, the diplomats walk a tightrope of moral dilemmas.
I found that the one hour format made the tenser moments tend to drag while funny moments were far too infrequent. What I did like about this show is that even though the action takes place a few thousand miles from the UK, it’s very much about being British. Here are some of the lessons I learned from watching Ambassadors.
Eccles cakes should contain raisins…I mean currants:
The British Embassy is, as you might expect, the official presence of Old Blighty in foreign lands. Even Tazbekistanis have an appreciation for Last of the Summer Wine and the excellent reputation of Harley Street physicians.
In an effort to convince the Prez (Igor Naor) and his advisors to contract with the British government for military helicopters, Keith and his associates pull out all the stops to put on cultural festival. Unfortunately the staffer in charge of planning the event is a native of Tazbekistan. Her understanding of the Best of British is a pork pie demonstration, Morris dancers, a band of medieval musicians, a chutney booth and a one-man dramatization of Frankenstein performed by Britain’s least talented, yet most deluded, Shakespearean actor. Keith’s wife, Jennifer (Keely Hawes) can’t even coerce their staff cook to make a proper batch of Eccles cakes.
The Royal Family actually has to earn its keep:
Prince Mark of Bath (Tom Hollander), a minor royal family figure, is being sent to Tazbekistan in his capacity as a trade envoy. Initially the embassy staff find his adamant sense of entitlement and insistence on staying at the Four Seasons (even though there isn’t one in the whole country) infuriating, but his position makes it impossible for them to say anything about it. Soon enough however they find the Prince’s expertise invaluable as he helps them with a business deal and surprisingly a human rights issue as well.
British bosses are intimidating, even more so via Skype:
If the job of a diplomat isn’t difficult enough, the constant pressure of a critical boss can send some civil servants around the bend (and apparently Davis’ oft-mentioned predecessor was one of those people). The bane of Keith and Neil’s existence is a man known only as POD – short for Prince of Darkness. Thanks to internet technology, they are at his beck and call and it goes without saying that video chatting with POD is never a friendly or pleasant experience.
More British News Makers I Don’t Know
In episode two, we find embassy personnel discussing the logistics for the arrival of Prince Mark in Tazbekistan. As an indication of HRH’s character and judgment, someone mentions the godparents of his children. If you’re not familiar with these names, as I wasn’t, the joke just doesn’t fly.
Here are Prince Mark’s choices as good moral influences on the lives of his offspring…
If you don’t know why the Cliff Richard reference is funny, please follow my usual procedure and Google it. If you’ve never even heard of Cliff Richard, you’re more behind the British culture curve than I am, dear chum.
Ambassadors just finished airing in the UK this week, so it might be available to view on the iPlayer. No surprise, I found it on YouTube.