Now that Veep has finished up its exceptional third season run, it will be replaced by The Brink, HBO’s new political comedy. But the timeslot comparison may not be a favorable one for The Brink, which — though doubling down on star power — lacks Veep’s nuanced humor and grounded sense of Washingtonian ineptitude.
The Brink, created by Roberto and Kim Benabib follows three characters who represent different aspects of the United States’ involvement with a geopolitical crisis taking place in Pakistan. Not exactly a situation ripe for comedy at the outset, but like Veep, The Brink takes a hard, cynical approach to politics, and finds humor in the absurdity of petty people making potentially Earth-shattering decisions.
And indeed, the stakes of The Brink are set up as Earth-shattering in scope. Pakistan is threatening to wipe out Israel, but their threats are also shown as merely a game to make the United States jump when they say, and to acquiesce to their demands. Every decision could end in fallout, and yet, the stakes never actually feel that high. Still, it’s a device by which The Brink can rake Washington, the military, and the rich dopes given positions beyond their abilities because of family connections over the coals. The problem is, they’re easy targets that don’t exactly require subversive or smart humor to lampoon.
And The Brink revels in not bothering. Tim Robbins’ Secretary of State Walter Larson is a sex-crazed booze hound who’s decent at his job — or at least, dedicated in his battles against the Secretary of Defense. A highlight (or lowlight) to his character arc is allowing a urinary tract infection to burst, which someone, somewhere, must have mistakenly thought was a comedic beat.
In fact, body fluids, and the humor derived therefrom, are everywhere. As the “boots on the ground,” Pablo Schreiber is fighter jet pilot Zeke Tilson, who has a booming side-business as a drug dealer on the base. He also, at one early point in the season, mistakenly drops a bomb on an Indian drone in Pakistani airspace thanks to a hazy, vomit-covered windshield, courtesy of his co-pilot who had a bad reaction to his product.
The Brink’s base humor almost works, though, regarding the plight of a lowly Foreign Service Officer in Pakistan, Alex Talbot (Jack Black), who gets waylaid on a trip to score weed, and ends up becoming the lynchpin of the entire international operation. Black is perfectly cast as the witless Embassy goon who trades sex for green cards, but he’s resourceful enough to keep himself alive in a continually escalating series of interactions with Pakistani leaders. (The Pakistani people are also mostly portrayed as a murderous mob, aside from Talbot’s driver Rafiq, played by Aasif Mandvi. Israel isn’t given a voice at all, and the women on the show are relegated to little more than sex partners).
Talbot’s story might have made for a decent comedic caper on film, but it’s watered down in The Brink by the less compelling storylines it shares screen time with. In fact, there’s really nothing compelling or distinctive about The Brink at all, either stylistically or thematically. When compared to Veep, it just seems broad, crass, and driven by a comedy that simply finds drug use and kinky sex inherently funny. The show wastes its great actors, and is a missed opportunity to take Veep’s political cynicism and apply it on a grander and more frenetic scale. Instead, The Brink hides the seeds of a good show under bushels of easily telegraphed, sophomoric gags, making it a rare misfire for HBO.
Rating: ★ Poor — Clear your DV-R space.
The Brink premieres Sunday, June 21st at 10:30 p.m. on HBO