A political satire that goes for the broadest laughs, The Brink stars Jack Black as a low-level foreign service employee who finds himself in the thick of nuclear-war negotiations in Pakistan. The new HBO series uses Black’s panicky jabber-talk style to set a frantic pace for the show, which only occasionally slows down enough to be actually funny.
Tim Robbins co-stars as Secretary of State Walter Larson, a boozy sex-hound who tries to prevent the president, played by Esai Morales, from bombing Pakistan. The president, under heavy pressure from Israel, feels he has little choice but to be the aggressor when Pakistan’s mentally unstable leader, General Zaman (Iqbai Theba) — he’s actually described as having had a clinically diagnosed psychotic break — begins making threats about wiping out “the Zionist state.”
By the second episode, Black’s Alex Talbot is being waterboarded. Did I say this was a comedy? The Brink’s pilot was directed by Jay Roach, the feature-film director who’s done other political-minded projects for HBO such as Game Change and Recount. The series owes a heavy debt to director Stanley Kubrick’s ultimate war satire, Dr. Stranglove (1964). Like Strangelove, The Brink also features a subplot about gung-ho American fighter pilots, in this case a pill-popping hustler known as Zeke “Z-Pac” Tilson, played by Orange Is the New Black’s Pablo Schreiber.
The Brink is chock-full of good actors, some of whom aren’t given enough to do. Of the episodes I’ve seen, Carla Gugino deserves a lot more screen time as Larson’s politically ambitious wife, and The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi starts out looking like he’ll be Black’s sarcastic sidekick but, thank goodness, gradually becomes much more than that.
What robs The Brink of much sustaining interest is the underlying cynicism that serves as the motive of almost every person here, and which comes across as a cheap excuse for avoiding deeper characterization. Everyone is compelled to do what he or she does for reasons of lust and power. I realize these things do indeed motivate a lot of what goes on in life, but when it comes to entertainment, I’d like something a little more amusing than the following (expurgated) exchange between Mandvi and Black, all too typical of this series: “What does it feel like to be such an a-hole?” “The world is run by a-holes.”
Yes, but that doesn’t mean you have to watch those a-holes.
The Brink airs Sundays at 10:30 p.m. on HBO.