'American Embassy' Tackles Issues Big and Small
Fri, Mar 8, 2002 02:03 PM PDT

by Jacqueline Cutler

When most women suffer a bad breakup, they might take a vacation, consume a tub of ice cream, go shopping, or cry on the shoulders of family and friends. When Emma Brody finds her fiance in bed with another woman, she quits law school and leaves the country to become a vice consul at the U.S. Embassy in London.

Though extreme, the actions of this beautiful, intelligent woman, played by Arija Bareikis ("Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" ), come across as completely reasonable in "The American Embassy," a new comedy-drama premiering Monday, March 11, on FOX (9 p.m. ET).

The pilot does a yeoman job of putting the embassy in the context of the scary world we live in. Filmed a year before the events of Sept. 11, it includes a bombing against Americans that the producers pondered whether to take out. Executive producer John Landgraf recalls weighing the decision.

"Do we cut this out of the pilot?" he says. "Do we cut it out of the series? And a lot of people, I think, at that time were cutting material out of shows. And we thought, well, no. We think this is a valid dramatic approach to important material. Let's just actually extend it. So now, in various ways, the ramifications of that bombing, both emotionally with Emma and her co-workers, and also trying to track down the guys who did it, and a whole variety of other issues last throughout the entire six episodes. We just decided to embrace what we were feeling and see if we could figure out how to deal with it."

"American Embassy" has been in development for about a year-and-a-half, and Bareikis recalls a FOX casting agent sending her "a pile of letters that Jim [Parriott, executive producer] had written that were ostensibly from this woman who moved to London to work at the U.S. Embassy, to her father, her mother, her best friend at the time. Some of them were e-mails, some of them were hand-written, some of them were typed. I thought, 'This is really different, this is really involving a lot of human elements -- sociologically, spiritually, politically."

"So, I came to Los Angeles, and we met about it," she continues. "I said, 'Well, this is really great, but how can you write a script from it?' Ad Jim did. And it was amazing. Then I actually screen-tested for the show. Fortunately, it was the most high class screen test I ever had, which was because I was the only one screen testing. Everything worked out in the end, and I'm just really grateful to have been involved in this project."

Though there are political story lines -- the second episode, which began shooting Sept. 18, involves a young Arab suspected of being a terrorist and Emma's handling of the situation -- "American Embassy" essentially is about a woman on a journey of self-discovery.

On the plane to England, Emma finds herself attracted to Doug Roach (David Cubitt, "Ali" ) a lothario and CIA spy. She rejects her ex's idiotic attempts to reconcile, and soon finds herself caught up in a love triangle with two rich, handsome British lords, brothers Jack and James Wellington (Jonathan Cake, "First Knight" ; Nicholas Irons, "Aristocrats" ). It is clear that just because Emma spends a good chunk of her free time e-mailing her sister, she is not going to suffer for attention.

Emma's flat, which she shares with a different roommate in each of the first two episodes, is in a spectacular building. Her next-door neighbor is a friendly cross-dresser who is kind enough to dip into his extensive wardrobe of fabulous dresses when her luggage doesn't arrive and she desperately needs a cocktail dress for a mandatory diplomatic party.

Shot in London, the show frequently and lovingly features the city's exquisite landmarks. Most of the action takes place in the embassy, which is run by Elque Polk (Jonathan Adams, who coincidentally starred in the the 1987 miniseries "London Embassy" ), a smart and demanding general counsel. His deputy is the extremely able Janet Westerman (Helen Carey, "Black Knight" ). Davenia McFadden ("Becker") plays co-worker Carmen Jones (yes, it's the same name as the classic 1954 musical). While at the diplomatic party, a co-worker deflects a compliment, saying, "This dress makes me look fat." "No, baby," Carmen retorts, "your butt does that."

Most of the show, however, is more serious in nature, as Emma tries to help her countrymen abroad while living with the constant challenges of America's controversial role in world politics. She's a bit hesitant but follows her instincts and learns from her mistakes.

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