HBO has focused most of its promotional power this summer on the second season of True Detective and Dwayne Johnson’s version of Entourage, Ballers. Less publicized is the other new show in their Sunday night block, Brink, and for good reason: It’s not that great.
Brink, which stars Tim Robbins and Jack Black, seems to want to be both the foreign-diplomacy version of HBO’s much more successful Veep, and a parody of American politics in much the same vein as Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Unfortunately, it’s not particularly good at either. Yet.
That’s not to say that Brink is not watchable — it very much is — it’s just that, relative to what we expect from HBO, it’s not quite up to snuff in the early goings (as always, there’s a caveat in that comedies often take a while to find their footing, and it’s hard to judge a comedy based only on the pilot). The problem with the pilot, at least, is that the comedy seems overly broad and forced, and the talents of both Robbins and Black seem to be misused.
The structural similarities to Dr. Strangelove are impossible to ignore. There’s three connected storylines converging around the possibility of World War III after a Pakistani general — who recently had a psychotic break — overthrows his government and threatens nuclear war, starting with blowing Israel off the map. His bigger beef, however, is with America. He suggests that the drones we send to Pakistan are sending out electromagnetic waves that are basically screwing with the reproductive systems of Pakistanis.
Meanwhile, the sex-crazed Secretary of State Walter Larson (Tim Robbins) is in the war room bickering with the Secretary of Defense (Geoff Pierson) over whether they should star bombing Pakistan. Elsewhere, low-level diplomat Alex Talbot (Jack Black) is in Pakistan holed up in the home of his driver (Aasif Mandvi) trying to collect intel on the coup taking place in Pakistan while avoiding the ire of the Pakistani military and the family of his driver. Finally, Zeke Tilson (Pablo Schreiber/Pornstache) is a pill-popping fighter pilot with money issues who is being tasked with bombing a residential area in Pakistan, which will certainly put us all on the brink of another World War.
That’s the setup, and there’s admittedly a little to like in each storyline. Pablo Schreiber is the most likable character of the bunch; Aasif Mandvi and Jack Black have decent comic chemistry together; and the arguments between the secretary of state and the secretary of defense are enjoyable (thanks mostly to Pierson’s dry delivery). Overall, however, it hasn’t gelled yet, and it’s trying hard to force the humor rather than allowing it to organically arise from the situation.
However, there is some potential in the series — from Roberto Benabib, a former writer on Weeds and Ally McBeal — otherwise it probably wouldn’t have landed Tim Robbins, Jack Black and Jay Roach, who directed the pilot. If it’s going to succeed, however, it’s going to have to better straddle the line between satire and parody, because too often it goes too far over the top. It’s not must-see television, but it’s probably worth checking in to see how much it improves over the course of the first season, if at all.