June 22, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “The Brink”


THE BRINK:  Sunday 10:30PM on HBO – If Nothing Else Is On…

THE BRINK will make you appreciate the precision and verbal dexterity of Veep.  Actually, although it’s an HBO political satire, The Brink gets most of its inspiration from an earlier classic of the form, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.  Much as in that 1964 landmark comedy, every authority figure is presented as an oversexed, infantile fool, and nuclear disaster lies straight in their path.  Series creators Roberto Benabib (who was a writer/producer on Weeds) and Kim Benabib, however, don’t have anything like Kubrick’s daring or stylistic rigor, and The Brink so far settles for middle-of-the-road silliness.

This being an HBO project, there are big names everywhere, from pilot director Jay Roach (whose work ranges from the Austin Powers series to HBO’s political movies Game Change and Recount) to stars Jack Black and Tim Robbins.  Black is Alex Talbot, a hapless low-level State Department official in Islamabad, out with disgusted Pakistani driver Rafiq (Aasif Mandvi) seeking some weed to impress a hot Swedish diplomat when a coup brings a wildly anti-American, anti-Israel leader into power–and custody of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.  Robbins is Secretary of State Walter Larson, who enjoys being tied up and fake-murdered in bed, but who appears from the pilot to be one of the few with his politics in the right (which is to say anti-war) place.  In the most directly Strangelove-ish role, Pablo Schreiber is the show’s update of Slim Pickens’ oblivious Major Kong, here a stoned pilot named Zeke Tilson who’s been entrusted with a secret mission.

As with Strangelove, the idea seems to be to put the sex jokes (and this time, drug jokes) in counterpoint to the deadly crisis, and have them feed off each other, but here the jokes are mostly uninspired and the suspense, so far, is lacking.  Still, The Brink could improve as it goes along, if the humor can rise from the characters’ crotches and the crisis becomes more complex.  Robbins’ character had the burden of his sex-scene introduction, but once he was in the Situation Room, he had most of the best lines and knew what to do with them.  Black, playing the show’s biggest idiot, was stuck with the dumb card, but at least he’s not pushing too hard, and he matches up well with Mandvi as his foil.  Unlike Ballers, which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, at least The Brink‘s pilot establishes a tone and narrative with some potential.

Strangelove aside, even political satires that get great reviews tend to be a rarefied taste:  this spring, Veep was routinely losing half its Silicon Valley lead-in (and adding insult to injury, some of those viewers came back half an hour later for Last Week Tonight).  The Brink is using old-fashioned means to poke fun at familiar targets, and it’s far from the forebears it’s trying to echo.  It could be headed for its own nuclear wasteland–or it could find its way to delivering a payload of thoughtful laughs.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."