First, let me tell you what’s great about HBO’s newest policial comedy, The Brink, from brothers Roberto and Kim Benabib and director Jay Roach.
It’s so fantastic seeing Robbins back in action – even if it is for this middling outing. Robbins plays U.S. Secretary of State Walter Larson who attempts to guide the president through a dangerously expanding crisis in Pakistan. Of course, Larson hates his job and is a classic boozy womanizer. In the pilot, he waves away the potentially critical crisis of leaving in a bar a highly classified file containing the names of U.S. covert operatives in Pakistan. His rationale for being the classified document to be secure? The bartender is a good guy, despite the fact that he may be banging Larson’s wife. Also, Larson hates his job and laments going for the Secretary of State position over lesser problematic posts such as Secretary of the Interior.
“This job sucks ass. I should’ve asked for secretary of the interior,” Robbins says. “No one’s going to take you away from a hooker in the middle of the night to save Mount Rushmore.”
Is any of Robbins’ material original? Not in the slightest. Walter Larson is a carbon copy of just about every major Washington politician for the past two or three decades – either incompetant buffoons or greasy sex fiends. But Robbins delivers the character with such glee, such pure joy, that he breathes life into the otherwise dead proceedings. Call him Secretary Frankenstein.
The rest of the show, based on at least the pilot, is a dull affair with too much screen time given to the underwritten role of Alex Talbot (Jack Black), a low-level foreign service officer whose main job is apparently scoring prostitutes and weed. Black’s skills as an actor cannot overcome a role that is so poorly, obviously conceived as to stop the proceedings dead cold whenever he’s on screen. He’s saddled with the role of the insenstive American insulting local culture. His most famous scene from the pilot consists of marveling at his Pakistani driver’s home and beautiful pool, surprised that the home is not a mud hut.
Even a low-level foreign service officer would have a larger, more cultured world view than this. What makes The Brink truly suffer is the comparison of these scenes to the subtle and brilliant execution of similar traits in Veep. It’s not that Veep‘s characters are any better – they’re not – but they do come across as less obvious in their comedy. Perhaps the character grows beyond the pilot, but you have to at least gain our interest enough to warrant a return visit. A third subplot is a little better only because it features Orange Is the New Black‘s Pablo Schreiber (“Pornstache”) as “Z-Pak,” a prescription-drug dealing naval pilot. And don’t even get me started on the women here – all submissives and hookers and the butt of too many jokes.
I will step onto The Brink once more, but only if they continue to focus on Tim Robbins and highlight his brilliant work. Sure, I’d love to have the character (and the entire show) a tad more original, but his performance will do. If he keeps this up, then he’ll be very hard to beat come Emmy season 2016.