The American Embassy: Pilot (2002) TV Review

For those interested, the Fox new drama, The American Embassy, was actually called Emma Brody after its lead character played by newcomer Arija Bareikis, who looks like a healthy Calista Flockhart. The show’s title was changed to The American Embassy in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and in a way the move could be seen as catering to the patriotic fervor in America at the moment. Then again, the show is based on an American woman working in the American embassy in London, so the change of name seems appropriate, and even smart on the part of the producers.

The American Embassy opens with a very interesting and fast-moving Teaser. We meet Emma and learn, in less than a minute, her life up to his point. Ohio State college graduate who dropped out of law school but is now looking for a change of scenery from her overbearing mother, her soulmate of a sister, and a fianc’e who cheated on her before their wedding. On the plane ride over, Emma encounters Doug Roach (David Cubitt), a charming American with a satchel handcuffed to his wrist. Doug is a CIA spook who also works at the American embassy in London and who immediately charms his way into Emma’s life. They have a brief encounter in the plane’s bathroom until Emma decides she doesn’t want to be a part of the Mile High club. Arriving in London, Emma is almost run over by a car “going in the wrong direction,” and here ends the Teaser. Let me just say that this is one of the best Teasers I’ve seen in a while for any pilot show. Fast, informative, and funny.

Surprisingly for a drama, The American Embassy manages to maintain its fast, brisk pace throughout the pilot. An amazing feat, as many dramas are incapable of blending good pacing with an interesting storyline, and it seems to be a matter of either/or. The American Embassy looks and feels like a series of greeting cards flashing onscreen. Emma narrates the entire episode in a letter to her sister Jules back at home, adding to the postcard vibe. The scenes flow very well into each other and despite quick introductions and quick exits of various characters, some at the Embassy and others at home, we get a good feel for all of them. This may be because of the good actors involved, as everyone seems to have a firm handle on their parts. This is a big problem with a lot of pilots because of the time limits and the need to introduce everyone quickly in spurts of “Hey, I’m this, I do that, see ya” before the credits roll. The American Embassy doesn’t seem to have the same problem. Although I have to admit that there were so many characters I didn’t quite remember everyone’s name without having to confer with the credit list, although strangely enough I remember their jobs. Greg the neighbor and Doug the CIA agent were the two standouts besides Bareikis as Emma.

The one thing that is imperative for any series of any genre to work is the likeability of its lead (or leads). Producer/creator James Parriott has struck gold with Arija Bareikis, a relative newcomer to television (or at least to me), who is likeable, vulnerable, and smart at the same time. It’s very easy to empathize with 28-year old Emma, as she is overwhelmed with London, her job, and an emerging love triangle between her, Doug, and a handsome British Lord who has a fianc’e. Add to that a runaway 12-year old American girl hiding with her father, a roommate whose idea of sex is to let everyone in the country know about her every orgasmic moments, and a cross-dressing neighbor who turns out to be the perfect neighbor.

As Doug, the enigmatic CIA agent, David Cubitt is a terrific addition. His cool and calm demeanor perfectly compliments Emma’s confused and erratic life. Another actor who plays the third part of the love triangle doesn’t fare so well, as he comes across as vanilla and, well, boring. Another peripheral character, Dewey, ends up having a great impact as an American tourist who blackmails the Embassy to send him back home to the States by taking off his clothes and refusing to leave.

The episode’s director, Stephen Surjik, does a great job of weaving through the hustle and bustle of an ordinary day at the Embassy and still keep everything coherent. We get a good feel for Emma’s job and her bosses and colleagues. The show also makes good use of music to compliment the scenes in question.

In a nutshell, The American Embassy introduced itself well, showing it has a firm handle on its characters and most importantly, its lead. The pilot ends with a gut-wrenching event that is sure to carry onto the second episode. It also ensures that I will be there.

CAST: Arija Bareikis
Davenia McFadden
David Cubitt