The Kabul Cinephile: Arctic

Foreign Service Flicks!

Updated October 17, 2021Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 11.46.33 AM

From the Golden Age of Hollywood to today's digital streaming services, the Foreign Service has routinely served as a plot line on the Silver Screen. Unfortunately, we diplomats are usually portrayed as cocktail-sipping elitists, bumbling bureaucrats, or James Bond wannabes. But if you dig deep, you can find some real gems in the archives.

This list of Foreign Service Films and TV shows was first compiled by my amazing former boss, Leslie Bassett (ret), when she was DCM Seoul and later Ambassador to Paraguay. Her list first appeared in her awesome internal DOS leadership blog. A similar list later appeared in the Foreign Service Journal.  I used them as the basis for my own list during the 2014-2015 TV season, which featured an unusual number of FS-related films -- most of them since cancelled. 

This compilation includes films and television shows portraying the Foreign Service, the U.S. State Department, or diplomats in general. Most of the films on this list portray the U.S. Foreign Service, but some titles also cover the life and work of British, Canadian and other members of the international diplomatic community.

To qualify for our list, the Foreign Service must play a major plot point, or feature a key character who is a diplomat or employee of one of the various U.S. foreign service agencies. Or a character works for another government organization - real or fictional - who is somehow tied to an Embassy or Consulate (in government-speak, they are under Chief of Mission authority). 

Many of the synopsis and movie posters below are from IMDB.com. Each synopsis is followed by an appropriate reference. Where none exists, the description was written by The Two Crabs.  Our next goal is to watch or rewatch and review every flick here. If we missed any titles, please share!  So with no further ado, we present:

 

The Two Crabs' Ultimate Compendium of Foreign Service Flicks

In chronological order by release date:

1939 - 1959

Espionage-agent-movie-poster-1939-1020701357Espionage Agent (1939): When Barry Corvall discovers that his new bride is a possible enemy agent, he resigns from the diplomatic service to go undercover to route out an espionage ring planning to destroy American industrial capability. (IMDB)

 

Panama Patrol (1939): The head of the cipher bureau, Phillip Waring, is about to marry his secretary, Helen Lane, when he is informed that the State Department has discovered a message that must be decoded. With the information given, Waring and his assistant, Lieutenant Murdock, investigate but their every move seems to be known to their alien adversaries. Helen discovers that Arlie Johnson, interpreter for the bureau is the real leader of the spy ring but, before she can relay the information, she falls into the hands of Johnson and his spy-ring henchmen. (IMDB)

 

The Dippy Diplomat (1945): (Animated short) A newspaper announces that Ivan Awfulitch, the famous ambassador, is due to have a barbecue with local resident Wally Walrus. Unfortunately, while Wally is preparing the barbecue, the scent of the steaks he is cooking attracts an unwelcome guest in the form of Woody Woodpecker. Wally throws him out but when Woody hears of the visitor he is expecting, he dresses as Awfulitch himself and finally gets the remainder of Wally’s food. (IMDB)

 

MV5BMTU0OTA0NTQzNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTAwMDUyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_AL_State Department — File 649 (1949): U.S. Foreign Service officer matches wits with a Chinese warlord to try to save American citizens threatened with execution.  This is probably one of the most well-known Foreign Service movies. The Foreign Service Journal wrote a detailed history of this underrated film, calling it an "our cinematic showcase." In the UK, the film was re-titled as, "Assignment in China." The film was directed by B-movie director Sam Newfield under the pseudonym Peter Stewart. 

 

Diplomatic-Courier-1952 Diplomatic Courier (1952): In post-war Austria, a State Department diplomatic courier Mike Kellis (swashbuckler star Tyrone Power) is assigned to to fly to Salzburg and meet his old friend to pick up a top-secret document. But trailing Russian spies ruin the day and our hero spends the rest of the film evading getting captured or killed. Trivia: Power served in WWII as a cargo pilot in Iwo Jima & Okinawa, but sadly died at just age 44 of a heart attack. More trivia: Power is on the cover of The Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (IMDB, Wikipedia).

 

Call Me Madam (1953):  Washington hostess Sally Adams (Ethel Merman) becomes a Truman-era US ambassador to a European grand duchy. (IMDB)

 

Dream Wife (1953): Clemson Reade, a business tycoon with marriage on his mind, and Effie, a U.S. diplomat, are a modern couple. Unfortunately there seems to be too much business and not enough pleasure on the part of Effie. When Clemson meets Tarji, a princess trained in all the arts of pleasing men, he decides he wants an old fashioned girl. Princess Tarji’s father is king of oil-rich Bukistan. Because of the oil situation and to maintain good political relations during the courtship between Clemson & Tarji, the State Department assigns a diplomat to maintain protocol until the wedding. Effie!” (IMDB)

 

DownloadBlonde Bait (1956): U.S. State Department agent Kent Foster, on the trail of a murderous traitor, Nick Randall, hopes to trap Randall through singer/stripper Angela Booth. The latter has promised to marry Randall on New Year’s Eve, even though she is not to see him until then. However, she lands in prison. Foster arranges for her escape, with the aid of “Granny” Ramsey, in the hopes she will lead him to Randall. The plan is snarled and Angela slips away. She manages to meet Randall, and when he slaps her, she realizes that all she has heard about him is true. (IMDB)

 

The Ambassador’s Daughter (1956): Joan Fisk, daughter of the American ambassador to France, is bored with entertaining the wives of visiting V.I.P.s and decides to conduct an experiment. She accepts a date with an American G.I. and tries to prove to her father and his friends that not all soldiers are wolves. But by the end of their first date, when wine, music and the young man’s charms have swept her off her feet, she realizes that she may have won more than the bet. (IMDB)

Barbarian_Geisha_1958 The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958): Based on the real-life story of American diplomat Townsend Harris, it stars John Wayne as the Consul General to Japan in 1856 during the final years of the Tokugawa shogunate. The host nation locals and officials mistrust all foreigners, and the local governor refuses to accept Harris' diplomatic credentials. Eventually diplomacy wins out, and the Governor is so pleased that he gifts Harris a Geisha - who most certainly does not abide by U.S. Federal Government Rules on Gifts.  The film was a rare flop by acclaimed filmmaker John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Prizzi's Honor).  

1960-1979

The_Ugly_American_poster (1) The Ugly American (1963): An intelligent, articulate scholar, Harrison MacWhite (Marlon Brando), survives a hostile Senate confirmation hearing at the hands of conservatives to become ambassador to Sarkan, a southeast Asian country where civil war threatens a tense peace. Despite his knowledge, once he's there, MacWhite sees only a dichotomy between the U.S. and Communism. He can't accept that anti-American sentiment might be a longing for self-determination and nationalism. So, he breaks from his friend Deong, a local opposition leader, ignores a foreman's advice about slowing the building of a road, and tries to muscle ahead. What price must the country and his friends pay for him to get some sense? (IMDB)


EmbassyEmbassy (1972) - The poster alone makes me want to join the Foreign Service. And it stars Richard Roundtree, better known as Shaft. A Russian spy penetrates into the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon to try to kill a Soviet defector under asylum there.

 

The Tamarind Seed (1974):  While on holiday in Barbados to recover from the lingering effects of a love affair that ended badly, Judith Farrow (Julie Andrews) meets Feodor Sverdlov (Omar Sharif), a handsome Russian. They find pleasure in each other’s company as they visit colorful places on the island, but there are complications to their budding romance after their holiday in the tropical paradise comes to an end. Problems arise due to geopolitical concerns of the Cold War, for Judith is the assistant to an important minister serving in the British Home Office in London, and Feodor is the Soviet air attaché assigned in Paris to Soviet General Golitsyn. British intelligence officer, Jack Loder, suspects the Sverdlov is attempting to recruit Judith to work as a Soviet spy, and this is in fact what Feodor tells his boss that he is attempting to accomplish. Feodor tells Judith that this is a way for him to be able to see her without bringing about suspicion from his people. Due to somewhat similar thinking on the British side, she is encouraged to see him as well. Loder is attempting to discover the identity of an undercover Soviet agent that has been sending confidential reports to Moscow. Soon he also is told to help a Soviet agent who wishes to defect to the West. (IMDB)

 

The Wind and the Lion (1975):  Loosely based on the real-life Perdicaris incident of 1904, The Wind and the Lion featured an A-list cast of the time including Sean Connery, Candace Bergen, Brian Keith, and John Huston as Secretary of State John Hay.  Bergen plays Eden Pedecaris, an American expat living in Morocco. She and her two children are kidnapped by a Berber rebel leader (Connery).  After the American Consul to Tangier is unable to secure the release of the AmCits, President Teddy Roosevelt politicizes the event and deploys the Navy to rescue the Americans. The film was nominated for two music Oscars. It was written and directed by John Milius, best known as the screenwriter of Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn.

 

Water (1975): Comedy-adventure flick starring the suave Michael Cain as a  British diplomat to a West Indian island nation finds his idyllic existence thrown into chaos when a large American drilling company finds a huge source of natural mineral water there.

 

936full-the-omen-poster The Omen (1976; remade 2006): A U.S. diplomat (Gregory Peck) and his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) adopt the infant Damien in Rome, then find out he's the Antichrist! When the diplomat becomes U.S. Ambassador to the UK, things go from bad to worse as seemingly everyone around Damien mysteriously dies. One of the scariest horror movies ever that spawned numerous bad sequels and copy-cats.

 

Midnight Express (1978):  Billy Hayes is caught attempting to smuggle drugs out of Turkey. The Turkish courts decide to make an example of him, sentencing him to more than 30 years in prison. While his family attempt to seek his release through legal and diplomatic channels, a fellow inmate tells him the only way out is the "midnight express," meaning to escape. (IMDB)

Caravans (1978): In 1948, at the U.S. embassy in Zadestan, a young diplomat is ordered to find the missing daughter of an influential U.S. Senator. It stars Anthony Quinn and based on a novel of the same name. (IMDB)

 

1980 - 1999

MV5BMjIxNDE1MDE3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzc3NDg5MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_Missing (1982): Starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek and based on the real-life experiences of Ed Horman, this is the story of an American father of conservative background who comes to a South American country to search for his missing son, a journalist. Ed joins with his daughter-in-law Beth, who like her husband is politically polarized from the father, in prying through the bureaucracy and dangerous political intrigue in search of their son and husband. Little by little, the father comes to realize that his own beloved government is not telling him the truth. (IMDB)

 

Who Dares, Wins (1982): When SAS Captain Peter Skellen is thrown out of the service for gross misconduct due to unnecessary violence and bullying, he is soon recruited by The People’s Lobby, a fanatical group aiming to hold several US dignitaries hostage. But Skellen’s dismissal is a front to enable him to get close to the terrorist group. Can he get close enough to stop the Lobby from creating an international incident? (IMDB)

 

Ambassador1985The Ambassador (1984): Robert Mitchum plays a controversial U.S. ambassador to Israel who tries to solve the Palestinian Question while being criticized by all factions, which takes a turn when his wife begins having an affair with a PLO chief. Rock Hudson (in his last theatrical movie role) plays Mitchum’s chief security officer who saves his life in an assassination attempt and tries to help him resolve the conflicts around them. (IMDB)

 

Protocol (1984): The US needs to convince the visiting emir Khala'ad of Othar to allow an American military base in his strategic realm. Clueless nightclub waitress Sunny Ann Davis (Goldie Hawn) accidentally spots and stops a terrorist shooting at the president and his royal guest. Her naive comments charm the press, so the State Department recruits her for its Protocol. She falls in love with charming Middle East desk chief Michael Ransome, who rather resigns then help trick her into a 'contact mission' to Othar, where the emir's plan with her unexpectedly stirs a revolution. (IMDB)

 

Chess (1984): Before "The Queen's Gambit," there was "Chess - a West End/Broadway play that was better known for its successful album with music by ABBA's Benny and Bjorn, and '80s New Wave hit, "One Night in Bangkok". It's not a movie -- yet; rumors have persisted for years. But I'm including it for a musical number, "Embassy Lament," involving two curmudgeonly British diplomats complaining of asylum seekers and re-enacting a fake visa interview. Sample lyrics: "Oh, my dear how boring, He's defecting, Just like all the others He's expecting, Us to be impressed, With what he's done here, But he hasn't stopped, To think about the paperwork, His gesture causes--We've an embassy to run here!" 

 

220px-Spieslikeusposter Spies Like Us (1985): A classic John Landis 80s flick starring Chevy Chase as Emmitt Fitz-Hume, a State Department civil servant Information Officer (IO) from a Foreign Service legacy family, and Dan Akroyd as Austin Milbarge, a DIA code breaker. The film begins with the two hapless heroes taking the Foreign Service Written Exam in hopes of moving up the DOS ladder. They get caught cheating on the FSWE and end up as expendable decoys on an intelligence operation. Zany antics abound. Trivia: Dan Akroyd's love interest is his real-life wife.  

 

Lethal Weapon 2 (1989):  South Africa's Foreign Service plays a starring role in this action flick, and not in a good light. It was one of the last Hollywood films to tackle the issue of Apartheid before the system collapsed a few years later. The story follows an evil South African Chief of Mission and his lackey diplomats use the cover of diplomatic immunity to engage in criminal activities. Our heroes Detectives Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) likewise break every Geneva Convention in the book in their pursuit of the bad guys. The plot thickens when Riggs (Mel Gibson) falls for the Consulate's OMS. Riggs eventually revokes the henchman's diplomatic immunity in a creative fashion, giving new meaning to the phrase, "persona non grata."  

 

Visas and Virtue (1997): Winner of the 1998 Academy Award for Best Short Film. Haunted by the sight of hundreds of Jewish refugees outside the consulate gates, a Japanese diplomat and his wife, stationed in Kaunas, Lithuania at the beginning of World War II, must decide how much they are willing to risk. Inspired by a true story, VISAS AND VIRTUE explores the moral and professional dilemmas that Consul General Chiune "Sempo" Sugihara faces in making a life or death decision: defy his own government's direct orders and risk his career, by issuing live-saving transit visas, or obey orders and turn his back on humanity. (IMDB). 

 

Four Days in September (1997): A Brazilian film about urban guerrilla fighters who kidnap the American Ambassador. Now, the diplomat's life hangs in the balance - helplessly caught between a government unwilling to cooperate - and his fear of the captors themselves. The film stars Alan Arkin, who also appeared in one of the best films on this list, "Argo." (IMDB).

 

Diplomaticsiege Diplomatic Siege (1999): B-list film starring formerly A-list actors like Darryl Hannah, Tom Berenger and Peter Weller. When Serbian terrorists take over U.S. Embassy Bucharest, Romania, they threaten to execute one hostage per hour unless their demands are met. There is a ridiculous side plot involving nuclear weapons stored in the embassy basement!

 

2000-2009

Rules of Engagement (2000): Action / courtroom drama about a military JAG attorney (Tommy Lee Jones) who must defend an officer (Samuel L. Jackson) on trial for ordering his troops to fire on civilians after they stormed a U.S. Embassy in a Middle Eastern country. (IMDB)

 

Mexico City (2000): After divorce and the death of her two children, Mitch is headed for Oaxaca with her brother Sam, a photographer. During their one-day layover in Mexico City, Sam goes out for a night on the town and doesn’t return. Mitch goes for help to the American embassy and starts her own search with the aid of Pedro, a cabbie. (IMDB)

 

American_embassy-showThe American Embassy (2002): A short-lived Fox television teen angst series that only lasted about 6 episodes. It stars Arija Bareikis as Emma Brody first-tour consular officer at US Embassy London. Emma is young, single and beautiful woman who joins the Foreign Service to escape from her cheating boyfriend and dysfunctional family in Toledo (never a good enough reason to join the FS!) In London, she squares off with her colleagues and superiors in dealing with various political cases. Unfortunately, the show has never been released on video or streaming service, but you can find bootlegs online. Episode 2 - and ONLY Episode 2 - can be found on YouTube.  Takeaways from Episode 2: never mail "toys" via diplomatic pouch, don't discuss classified information in the Embassy lobby or London streets; and hire a dozen EEO officers...STAT! 

 

118832921_10158819774044443_8774276570852381834_n The Bourne Identity (2002): It's a stretch to call "The Bourne Identity" a Foreign Service film, but I'm including it here because 1) we've received multiple requests that it deserves recognition, 2) it's a fracking AWESOME film and 3) it features a key scene that is single-handedly responsible for perpetuating the Hollywood myth of U.S. Embassies abroad, complete with obligatory rude consular officer and a platoon of heavily-armed Marines. In this alternate universe there exists a U.S. Embassy in Zurich (it's actually in Bern), and U.S. citizens can enter a U.S. Embassy without an appointment or security screening simply by declaring, "I'm an American." And don't think we missed the fact that Jason's name in his fake Russian passport is complete gibberish that literally reads "Lshtshfum, Ashef"!  And while we're on the topic of Hollywood myths - no, U.S. Embassies are NOT "U.S. soil". 

 

I Witness (2003): Jim Rhodes is a human rights worker in Tijuana for a few days to make sure that union elections are fair at a maquiladora owned by a U.S. corporation. In quick succession, the police assault the strikers, the bodies of 27 peasants turn up in an abandoned tunnel that has caved in, and two U.S. teen bikers are missing. As Rhodes pokes around and speculates on connections among these events, he’s beaten up, warned off by a drug dealer’s attorney, and given varying degrees of help by the U.S. State Department rep, the U.S. Trade rep, and an honest local cop. It’s always about money, but whose is at stake and how cheap is Rhodes’s life?  (IMDB)

 

MV5BMTg1MTYyMDE2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTk1NTAzMQ@@._V1_SX214_AL_The Constant Gardener (2005): Mild-mannered British diplomat Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) is assigned to British Embassy in Kenya. He is accompanied by his wife, Tessa (Rachel Weisz). After Tessa is murdered, Quayle  After his wife is murdered in Kenya, Justin, with a passion for gardening, decides to uncover the truth behind the death of his wife - with no regards for the consequences.

 

The White Countess (2005): Set in 1930s Shanghai, where a blind American diplomat (Ralph Fiennes, in his second role as a diplomat) develops a curious relationship with a young Russian refugee who works odd -- and sometimes illicit -- jobs to support members of her dead husband's aristocratic family. (IMDB)

 

American Visa (2005): Bolivian film. After being denied an American visa, a Bolivian professor becomes involved in a web of criminal activities, holds-up the American consulate and falls for a beautiful prostitute from the Bolivian lowlands. (IMDB)

 

Cooking with Stella (2009): A warmhearted social satire about a Canadian diplomat and her chef husband who are posted to New Delhi. Upon arrival they inherit a household of Indian servants headed by the charming, totally inspiring – and wily -cook, Stella (Seema Biswas). When Stella agrees to become Michael’s cooking guru and to teach him traditional Indian dishes, little does he know that she’s cooking up a scheme of her own. (IMDB)

 

MV5BMzA4NjA2NjI2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTEzNzI2Mg@@._V1_SX214_AL_Julie & Julia (2009): Based on a true story of the Foreign Service's most famous EFM, Julia Child (Meryl Streep) is the wife of a diplomat assigned to a 4-year posting at US Embassy Paris. Looking for ways to pass her time, Julia takes cooking lessons at the Cordon Bleu, where she discovers her true passion. The film time travels between Julia's story and that of young writer Julie Powell (Amy Adams). Underemployed with an unpublished novel, Julie decides to cook her way through Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in a year and to blog about it. We go back and forth between these stories of two women learning to cook and finding success. Sympathetic, loving husbands support them both, and friendships, too, add zest.

 

The Diplomat (2009): A British diplomat is arrested on charges of working with Russian mafia. After death threats to his wife, they are taken into protective custody. Then the MI6 shows up with a new piece of the puzzle. (IMDB)

 

In The Loop (2009): A political satire about a group of skeptical American and British operatives and diplomats attempting to prevent a war between two countries. Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and U.K. collide with White House and Downing Street warmongers. Features a bit role by James Gandolfini as a U.S. General trying to keep the peacemaker. (IMDB)

 

2010-2019

From Paris with Love (2010): Awful, implausible action thriller starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as James, an ambitious aide to the U.S. Ambassador in Paris, yet moonlighting for the CIA. On the night he and his girlfriend become engaged, he's assigned to serve as driver/control officer for Charlie Wax, an unorthodox government employee played by John Travolta. James learns that a terrorist cell is preparing to attack the American delegation. The two embark on a wild ride to save the day. Two thumbs down.

 

The Ambassador (2011): Danish journalist Mads Brügger goes undercover as a Liberian Ambassador to embark on a dangerous yet hysterical journey to uncover the blood diamond trade in Africa. (IMDB)

 

Homeland Homeland (2011 - 2020): Emmy-winning spy thriller TV series starring Claire Danes, and loosely based on an Israeli TV series, "Prisoners of War." Although the series is mainly about the CIA, many of the episodes feature State Department plot-lines. Season 4 takes place almost entirely at U.S. Embassy Kabul and U.S. Embassy Islamabad, where Carrie (Danes) is assigned and somehow manages to maintain an implausible cover and keep her job while breaking every international law and FAM reference.  I personally thought the earlier seasons were better, and stopped watching after Season 4. But YMMV. 

 

Fast & Furious franchise (2011 - current): How Hollywood has managed to drag out this story for 20 years and 8 films is beyond my comprehension. Since 2011's "Fast Five," the series has co-starred Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Luke Hobbs, who plays a Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent. Why a DS agent is investing car thefts is another story. The 2019 spin-off film, "Hobbs & Shaw" was actually quite entertaining and a nice change of pace from the rest of the films (only two of which I've seen).

 

MV5BMTc3MjI0MjM0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTYxMTQ1OA@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Argo (2012): Winner of the 2013 Academy Award for Best Picture, Argo is based on a true story. In 1979, Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, taking 56 American diplomats hostage. Six American from the consulate section manage to escape and take refuge in the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor. With few options remaining, CIA exfiltration expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) devices a daring plan to create a phony sci-fi film project called "Argo," visit Iran to supposedly scout filming locations, and smuggle out the Americans as part of the production crew. This film introduced a whole new generation to the work of the U.S. diplomats and the real dangers of life in the Foreign Service. Probably Mr. Crab's favorite film on this list!

 

Get the Gringo (2012): Mel Gibson is a career criminal serving as a prison sentence in Mexico who comes to the attention of a U.S. Consular officer after a series of incidents. Gibson later assumes the identity of the consular officer to break into a prison, for reasons that would be a spoiler alert. (IMDB / Wikipedia)

 

Pulling_Strings-381772697-largePulling Strings / Amor A Primera Visa (2013): This Rom-Com stars B-list actress Laura Ramsey as a Type-A consular officer at U.S. Embassy Mexico City who is focused on nothing but climbing the Foreign Service ladder. She throws herself a goodbye party to celebrate her assignment to U.S. Embassy London (nice link if you can get it). But after a night of heavy drinking, she gets drunk and passes out on the street (Hello? RSO?)  She's rescued by a Alejandro, a mariachi singer whom she had denied for a visa the previous day.  Breaking nearly every State Department rule in the process, Laura falls in love with her visa client. What could possible go wrong!?! In Spanish-speaking countries, the film was more appropriately titled, "Amor A Primera Visa" - a word play on 'Love at First Sight'. 

 

Blue Jasmine (2013): Directed by Woody Allen, the film follows Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, a ruined, mentally troubled New York socialite. After her fall from grace, she hooks up with diplomat Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), who Jasmine believes will help her social position. The film makes FSOs appear to be fabulously rich and have months of leave for R&R in California and fancy cocktail parties in Vienna. 

 

The Ambassadors (2013): A BBC television comedy starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb as two hapless British diplomats in the fictional republic of Tazbekistan. Appears to have only lasted three episodes. (BBC)

 

Uiraqi_1413979622271Madame Secretary (2014): MADAM SECRETARY stars Tèa Leoni as Elizabeth McCord, the shrewd, determined, newly appointed Secretary of State who drives international diplomacy, battles office politics and circumvents protocol as she negotiates global and domestic issues, both at the White House and at home. A college professor and a brilliant former CIA analyst who left for ethical reasons, Elizabeth returns to public life at the request of the President following the suspicious death of her predecessor. The President values her apolitical leanings, her deep knowledge of the Middle East, her flair for languages and her ability to not just think outside the box, but to not even acknowledge there is a box. McCord's team includes her Chief of Staff Nadine Tolliver, speechwriter Matt Mahoney, press coordinator Daisy Grant and her charming assistant Blake Moran. When McCord debates third world problems, finesses foreign dignitaries at work and does battle with the President's combative Chief of Staff Russell Jackson, it's just a warm-up for when she goes home to her supportive husband, Henry, and their two bright children, where "politics" and "compromise" take on new meaning. (CBS)

 

Embassy SIThe Embassy (2014): Australian reality show following the real work of consular officers at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok. Although the producers have taken some slight over-dramatic licenses, "The Embassy" realistically portrays life and work of consular officers and the help they provide to their citizens. Having worked in American Citizen Services (ACS), I can attest the work of our Aussie counterparts closely mirrors the work of U.S. consular officers. The first full episode of "The Embassy" is available on YouTube. Subsequent episodes are only available on Australia's Channel Nine website, which can be viewed using a VPN. 

 

MV5BMzBkYTRiZTItOGQ5NS00ZWYzLTg4ZDItM2M1NDUzODFhMmZmL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjI3MTIwODI@._V1_Jeg er aambassadøren fra Amerika (The American Ambassador) (2014-2016) - Another reality show, this time following the daily life of real-life U.S. Ambassador to Denmark, Rufus Gifford. Amb. Gifford was a political appointee and former finance director for President Obama's reelection campaign. The show even won Denmark's equivalent of the Emmy Award, and was written up in Vanity Fair. Apparently it was on Netflix for a while but seems to have vanished. If anyone knows where old episodes can be found, let me know!

 

90 Day Fiancé (2014 - current) - Full disclosure...with the exception of "The Amazing Race," The Two Crabs truly despise Reality Shows. And this one takes the cake. I have managed to only watch 3 or 4 episodes before being overcome by a strong desire to hurl bricks at the TV and "GET A CLUE!" double face palms by the shenanigans of the petitioners & beneficiaries.  That said, I recognize that the entire premise of this show has a strong Foreign Service connection. For those unfamiliar with this series and it's nine spinoff shows (and counting), the title refers to the U.S. K-1 visa process, which allows a U.S. citizen (the petitioner) to sponsor his or her alien partner (the beneficiary) to the United States on a temporary status with the intent to marry - the couple must marry within 90 days or else the partner must return to their home country. Once married, the petitioner can sponsor his/her new spouse for Conditional Lawful Permanent Residency - more commonly known as a "Green Card." Trivia: only the U.S. citizen petitioner gets paid to appear on this show, because by law the alien beneficiary cannot work on a K1 visa.  Good U.S. visa program, bad TV show. 'Nuff said. 

 

Survivor (2015) - A Foreign Service Officer in London tries to prevent a terrorist attack set in New York, but is forced to go on the run after she is framed for crimes she didn't commit. The A-list cast stars Dylan McDermott and Milla Jovovich and directed by James McTeigue.

 

The_Brink_HBO The Brink (2015) - HBO series described as a "dark geopolitical comedy" starred Tim Robbins as the Secretary of State, and Jack Black as a "lowly Foreign Service Officer" assigned to U.S. Embassy Islamabad, and John Larroquette as the evangelical Ambassador. Cancelled after just 1 season.

 

The Diplomat (2015) - An HBO documentary film about the life and work of Amb. Richard Holbrooke, from Vietnam to Afghanistan.

 

Diplomats (2015 - In turnaround) - A comedy film based on Dennis Rodman's "basketball diplomacy" trips to North Korea.  Was announced in 2015 but apparently never filmed. Was to have been directed by "Barbershop" and "Fantastic Four" director Tim Story

 

Stanistan (2015) - A show about a Press Officer at a US Embassy compound in the Middle East. The show was cancelled before the pilot ever aired.  Having worked as a press officer in Afghanistan, I'm thoroughly  disappointed "Stanistan" never became reality.

 

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016) - Action movie directed by Michael Bay follows the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Horrible film, historically inaccurate, and -- just like the events of Benghazi -- completely politicized. It's pretty clear where Michael Bay's politics lay.

 

Jarhead 3: The Siege (2016) - A direct-to-video movie that is essentially a ripoff of the aforementioned "13 Hours", a group of Marines must protect a US Embassy in the Middle East when it suddenly comes under attack from enemy forces.

 

Mad Dogs (2016) - The plot to this Amazon Prime series loosely based on a British show of the same name just screams SCS (Special Citizen Services). A group of 40-something unhappy men behaving badly in Belize. Of course, their problems become US Embassy Belize's problems. Cancelled after one season; perhaps the filmmakers couldn't pay back their repat loans.

 

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (2016 - 2017) - In one of the more ridiculous premises on this list, this "Criminal Minds" spinoff series follows the exploits of the the International Response Team - a fictional FBI unit tasked with rescuing U.S. citizens abroad.  The few episodes we watched were predictable: An American overseas is arrested, threatened or set up with a crime they didn't commit; the Embassy is powerless or too inept to assist, so it's IRT to the rescue. The only Embassy office usually portrayed in a positive light is Diplomatic Security. Even Gary Sinise couldn't save this turkey - the show was cancelled after just two seasons of poor reviews and ratings. 

 

Snatched (2017) - Forgettable film starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn, who are kidnapped in Ecuador and trying to get to safety at U.S. Embassy Bogota.  But the crud comedy makes up with actor Bashir Salahuddin in his role as State Department official named Morgan Russell -- who presumably works for CA/OCS/ACS.  Any Consular Officer who has ever handled Special Citizen Services (SCS) cases will see themselves in Morgan dealing with overbearing family members.  And no, the Embassy cannot deploy the A-Team to rescue your loved one (see "Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders"). 

 

Inside the American Embassy (2018) - Documentary-style reality show about the inner workings of U.S. Embassy London and "Trump's man in Britain," Ambassador Woody Johnson, described by UK Channel 4 as, "a billionaire, close personal friend of Donald Trump."  I watched the second episode which focused on consular operations, even saw a few people I recognized, and was quite shocked at the access the filmmakers were allowed (a little to much). The four-episode docu-series can be found on the Channel 4 website, however you need to use a VPN connected to a UK server, and register for a free account on Channel 4, with a UK mailing address (just make one up, it works fine). 

 

Long_Shot_(2019_poster) Long Shot (2019) - Hilarious Rom-Com starring the lovely Charlize Theron as "S" - the Secretary of State who is running for President in 2020. Seth Rogan, as his usual lovable stoner self, plays a journalist who becomes her speechwriter. FS folks will appreciate several inside DOS/USG jokes. Anyone who has ever served as a control officer for an "S" visit will truly appreciate this film (or trigger nightmares!)  Sadly, this movie was badly marketed and the trailers and posters really did the film injustice. It's definitely worth a watch with a few beers and popcorn in hand.

 

Infidel (2019) - She's Liz, a State Department official. He's Doug Rawlins, an outspoken Christian American blogger played by Jim Cavaziel (The Passion of the Christ). Doug is kidnapped by Iranian spies while on a trip to Egypt where he makes speeches critical of the Iranian regime. The U.S. government refuses to intervene, so Liz travels to the Middle East in attempt to rescue him. Trivia: The film was produced and distributed by far right-wing conspiracy theorist Dinesh D'Souza. 

 

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Good Omens (2019) - An angel and a demon must work to stop Armageddon, brought upon in the form of the Antichrist - who may or may not be the son of a U.S. Diplomat in London! Based on the book. From BBC and available on AmazonPrime. Best quote from EP1: "An American diplomat? REALLY? As if Armageddon were a cinematographic show you wished to sell in as many countries as possible." Great cast starring David Tennant, Michael Sheen, and Frances McDormand as God. 

 

 

 

2020 - current

Christmas in Vienna (2020) - The Two Crabs have a confession: We love cheezy Hallmark Christmas movies. Sorry not sorry! As we are now based in Vienna so we were excited to hear this year's Hallmark Xmas season featured a movie set in Vienna. But we were completely floored to later learn that it was a FOREIGN SERVICE film! Brennan Elliott plays a "Minister Counselor" at U.S. Embassy Vienna, and somehow lives in a palace larger than most Chief of Mission residences. He's also managed to serve in only 0% differential posts with a follow-on assignment to that Hollywood favorite, the nonexistent "U.S. Embassy Zurich!" Like most Hallmark films, it features a predictable plot and mostly unknown actors, but it's one of the better Hallmark flicks.

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The Serpent (2021) - Phenomenal British mini-series based on the real-life French-Vietnamese serial killer Charles Sobhraj, and the young Dutch consular officer Herman Knippenberg who links Sobhraj to the murder of tourists in Thailand. Riveting, on-the-edge-of-your-seat storytelling. A BBC & Netflix collaboration. 

 

 

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