A glaringly artificial drama about a young woman’s big dreams, Fox’s “The American Embassy” has grand aspirations but comes off as a shallow hybrid of “The West Wing,” “Felicity” and the show it’s temporarily replacing, “Ally McBeal.” It’s no surprise that this midseason entry is more interested in demographics than political intrigue — but to be so preoccupied with pretty people balancing their overseas duties with their sex lives seems like a rather misguided approach nowadays. With the producers seemingly determined to spice up the narrative at all costs with hot bodies, series feels too much like “The ‘Melrose Place’ Fan’s Guide to Diplomacy.”
Adding to the sense of unreality, skein’s leading lady experiences a lifetime of events in a matter of days: She makes out with a CIA agent in an airplane restroom, survives a bomb explosion, takes in a girl in the middle of a family dispute and gets propositioned by a billionaire. Even if all of this were developed over the course of an entire season, it would still be too much.
Emma Brody (Arija Bareikis) is an Ohio State grad who lands a vice consulate job at the U.S. Embassy in London. Carrying around the guilt of leaving her doting mother behind while she tries to find herself, she is nonetheless wide-eyed and wowed by the wonder that comes with living abroad.
Immediately thrown into her work, Emma is surrounded by several fellow do-gooders, including Carmen Jones (Davenia McFadden), a motor-mouthed wisenheimer, and Liz Shoop (Reiko Aylesworth), her promiscuous flatmate with an attitude. They are all overseen by Elque Polk (Jonathan Adams), an arrogant boss with a heart of gold who does everything by the book and on a rigid schedule.
Debut’s serious side features Emma in the middle of an international custody battle. Rather than see an innocent child thrown into the middle of heavy politics, she volunteers to play foster parent for a week, only to jeopardize her future when the tyke disappears. On top of this, Emma is assigned to watch after Dewey Johnson (David Eisenberg), a disturbed psychopath kept in custody after taking his clothes off in the middle of the embassy’s lobby.
But it all really comes down to boy problems, and Emma has plenty of them. On the plane ride to England, she gets carried away with hunky and secretive CIA agent Douglas Roach (Michael Cubitt) — like that really happens to two people who just met — and soon after her arrival she finds herself the object of affection for privileged suitor James Wellington (Nicholas Irons). All of this and she still has time to befriend her cross-dressing neighbor Gary (Michael Cerveris).
If nothing more, “American Embassy” is a terrific calling card for Bareikis, whose good lucks and wholesome image immediately bring to mind Laura Linney. Able to pull off what would be even more outrageous if handled by a less talented actress, she carries the load here, single-handedly raising the level of a project that suffers from a paucity of supporting players. Already a Broadway name (“The Last Night of Ballyhoo”), Bareikis is undoubtedly headed for bigger and better things.
Undoubtedly more interesting and important than they appear here, the jobs these people have been hired to do are made soft and squishy by the pilot’s director, Andy Tennant, and writer, Lori Lakin; surely, there are more appropriate policy-related plotlines than a naked man and dreamy operatives. And stylewise, the heavy reliance on narration and a distracting email correspondence technique is a lazy tack to take.
Tech credits are uniformly sharp, helped immensely by Andy Collins’ smooth lensing and a backdrop chock-full of London’s best postcard scenery. Show was originally called “Emma Brody” and was retitled after Sept. 11.