Given Dave on Demand’s apparent inability to stream anything to my computer at present — we wanted to watch the last episode of Dave Gorman’s Modern Life is Goodish – I decided to check out Mitchell and Webb’s new show Ambassadors earlier, and was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered.
Mitchell and Webb are an excellent comedy duo, and have proven themselves to be pretty adaptable and flexible through stuff like Peep Show and their sketch show. Of course, David Mitchell usually plays characters that are reasonably close to his real-life persona — or perhaps he adapts his real-life persona to be closer to the characters he plays? — and Robert Webb usually plays slightly supercilious, smug arseholes, but the pair of them actually have a surprising amount of range outside their most well-known roles as Mark and Jeremy from Peep Show.
Ambassadors is a good example of this. The show wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but then, I went into it reasonably blind, so this perhaps isn’t altogether surprising. I was expecting something along the lines of a modern-day Yes, Minister type thing, with bumbling, incompetent British officials having to deal with comic shenanigans in some far-off country, but what I actually got was something a little more serious. Oh, there was still plenty of ridiculousness along the way, for sure, but the ridiculousness wasn’t the main point of the show; in other words, it was more of a “comedy drama” than a straight-up comedy.
Mitchell plays the British ambassador to the fictional country Tazbekistan, while Webb plays his second-in-command — who is actually a little more assertive and confident than his “superior”, but who is also being blackmailed for some reason or another that hasn’t yet become altogether clear. They’re supported by a strong cast of other actors playing officials from both Britain and Tazbekistan, and the first episode revolves around Mitchell having to juggle the seemingly conflicting questions of whether to negotiate the release of a human rights activist or a lucrative arms deal with Tazbekistan for helicopters that can “pick off a rabbit from 70 miles away.”
I can’t say I’m massively switched on politically and thus can’t really comment as to how “biting” the satire inherent in the show really was, but leaving that aside, the show itself was entertaining enough. Mitchell and Webb are always very watchable, and seeing them play characters other than Mark and Jeremy (or variations thereof) is rather pleasing. If nothing else, Ambassadors certainly shows that the duo have the capacity to be serious when it counts — and when strange things do happen, their particular brand of deadpan humour contrasts well with the sillier things going on.
I’ll be interested to see how the show develops. With hour-long episodes and the addition of drama to their usual comedy, it’s a lot slower-paced than Mitchell and Webb’s previous work and thus it will be a good test of their abilities, and whether they can carry an interesting story as well as a series of amusing happenings. The first episode was certainly a reasonably strong start — I’m looking forward to seeing if it continues.