A wise man once said, “War is Hell.” As it refers to U.S. foreign policy as depicted by The Brink, “War is a Shitshow” might be a more accurate term.
At its essence, The Brink is a screwball satire that centers around a geopolitical crisis in Pakistan. For those of you who don’t understand what a geopolitical crisis is, it’s a coincidence of events that effects the relationship across geography, demography, and economics regarding for policies of multiple nations. For those who don’t understand why Pakistan is relevant to this A. watch the news more often and B. They possess a large amount of nuclear weapons, which is always scary in the wrong hands.
But I digress.
The show centers around three main characters, each representative of a different arm of our oh-so-dysfunctional federal government; The state department, the military, and the U.S. Department of Foreign Affairs.
The first of the three characters is Alex Talbot (Jack Black), a lowly Foreign Service Officer stationed on the ground in Islamabad, who has dreams of becoming a high-ranking diplomat or CIA agent some day—with the sole purpose of getting with lovely foreign ladies.
Black’s character is a low-level toad in almost every sense of the word, evident from the first time we see him interacting with his embassy-appointed driver Rafiq Massoud, played by former Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi. Mandvi’s character is an excellent and very necessary component of the satire, demonstrating a pretty accurate representation of Pakistani tolerance but general disdain for the ever-present asshole Americans they reluctantly work together with.
Without Mandvi, Black’s character Talbot becomes pretty much just annoying, but the two play off each other well. Mandvi’s eye-rolling tolerance paying off Black’s unapologetic ignorance—best illustrated by a scene in which Talbot uses his state-appointed clearance to leave the embassy to score some weed, (to help score some Danish nookie) and gets embroiled in a violent coup.
Actually, that one scene could pretty much sum up the whole ridiculousness of the series.
Speaking of drugs, that brings us to our next ‘hero,’ Zeke “Z-Pak” Tilson, one of the Navy’s finest fighter pilots and also the USS Gerald Ford’s resident drug dealer. Zeke is one strung-out guy (most of which he brings on himself) but as the show soon reveals, so are all of the crewmen and aviators. The irony of our entire fighting force only being able to keep up with their rigorous duties via a black market of illegal drugs is both wickedly funny and also darkly insightful. The added irony? Zeke gets his supply through his pharmacist girlfriend back home—and only started his off-the-record enterprise to help stimulate his income and help his kids back home.
This time, the dark humor hits close to home.
As if it weren’t obvious, having drug-fueled, strung-out pilots sitting on six tons of jet fighter and a billion dollars worth of ordinance and being rushed into high-stress, dangerous, and sensitive military scenarios is a really, really bad idea. And if that pilot just so happened to mix up his and his co-pilots ‘medication’ before said high-stress situation… well things can escalate quickly.
That brings me to the third, final and most influential of the three characters, Secretary of State Walter Larson, played by the hilarious Tim Robbins. Of all the off-the-wall characters in the show, Robbins is my favorite and possibly the most accurate of the three in their respective roles. As the philandering, adulterating Secretary of State, Robbins brings a kind of detached indifference to his position—while somehow still being actually good at his job.
Within minutes of meeting Robbins’ character, via his aide interrupting an autoerotic asphyxiation session with an Asian prostitute (never thought I would write those words), you come to relish every moment of screentime the hard-drinking character occupies, best represented by his aside in the Situation Room:
“I need hair of the dog pronto. Make it look like orange juice. Christ, do you think LBJ fought Vietnam in this room sober? This job sucks ASS. Should have asked for secretary of the interior. No one’s going to take you away from a hooker in the middle of the night to save Mount Rushmore. Can I have a mint?”
As a whole, the show is a pretty solid political satire, balancing punchlines and jokes with the real-life ridiculousness that is the current political climate. From waterboarding, to militant dictators to bullshit bureaucracy, The Brink makes a few good points with even more solid laughs. And while not as sharp-tongued or quick-witted as other political pundits like John Stewart and John Oliver have the ability to be, the series’ success owes much to its high-octane absurdity and the tremendous performances of its cast—playing characters that are almost as believable as they are comedic. In short, come for the satire, stay for the Tim Robbins.
The shows creators, brothers Roberto and Kim Benabib conceived the show under the premise that every season would involve the same main characters as they bungle a different crisis somewhere else around the globe. Maybe next year we can look forward to a Putin-esque enemy or the classic Kim-Jong Un, but for now you can enjoy the whole ridiculous first season on HBO.