Jay Roach only directs the first episode of HBO’s The Brink, which centers on a gaggle of soldiers, politicians, and various governmental so-and-sos attempting to avoid World War III in Islamabad, but given his simultaneous role as executive producer, it’s not hard to see his influence in this soft and fatally uncomplicated satire. To be fair, the entire series is the brainchild of Roberto and Kim Benabib, the former of whom was a writer and producer on Weeds, another series that used controversial political concepts to dress up otherwise broadly vulgar comedy. Not unlike that series, The Brink will likely appeal to college and high school kids who just got their first taste of Chomsky and Zinn.
As the series begins, Jack Black’s Alex, a diplomat working in Pakistan, is grabbing some primo Pakistani weed as Islamabad continues to slip into rebellion, at the same time as Secretary of State Walter Larson (Tim Robbins) must advise the American president (Esai Morales) about an escalating global conflict in the very same region, spurred by despotic leader General Zaman (Iqbal Theba). The Benabibs have bitten into some very complex, deeply emotional subject matter, and have seemingly no interest in engaging with the stickier issues at stake in global diplomacy and high-stakes peacekeeping efforts. Instead, The Brink focuses on how drunk, perverse, horny, or outright dumb American leaders are (Larson, for instance, is a class-A philanderer), a point of view the creators and writers take little care to craft in detail, which ultimately underlines their inability to get truly vicious or even palatably insightful with what is, from the outset, promising material.
The amount of talented comedians at play here, including Aasif Mandvi, John Larroquette, Pablo Schreiber, Maribeth Monroe, and Mimi Kennedy, makes the general lack of guffaws all the more surprising. The only thing the writers seem interested in is cursing and using technical or geographical jargon to veil the fact that the entire series is a “Give Peace a Chance” rally being dressed up as a long-lost Bill Hicks special. There’s no real outrage to The Brink, as that would require a modicum of effort in understanding the immense amount of historical and religious strife at play in Pakistan, rather than just knowing the country is probably not the greatest vacation spot these days.
It’s easy enough to make jokes about a cabinet member being a rapist in college, or fighter pilots getting high on painkillers during a missile strike, or the sprawl of immorality and corruption in American politics when these acts are presented as everyday occurrences that, as a society, we don’t care about anymore. Except it’s clear that people do care about these actions, including those involved in this series, but the creators of The Brink never insinuate they’re capable of having an emotional response to them. Nor, for that matter, do the show’s strictly competent visuals give any sense of any anger or raging disbelief seething underneath all the frat-boy language. In other words, The Brink has no backbone, which happens to be the one thing that satire requires.