Five episodes were provided for review prior to broadcast.
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and the politicians are as useless as you’d expect. In HBO’s broad yet biting geopolitical satire The Brink, a military coup in Pakistan sends Secretary of State Walter Larson (Tim Robbins) and the rest of the President’s war room into crisis mode, but even the prospect of nuclear armageddon isn’t enough to stop them from lobbing crude insults across the table like verbal hand-grenades.
A sturdy companion piece for the network’s Veep, which shares The Brink‘s jaundiced views of world politics, the series is essentially a lower-brow Dr. Strangelove tackling today’s thick-headed foreign policy in the Middle East. Absurdist with a feather-light touch, it features a cast of characters for whom doomsday is at the push of a button – and whose fingers are perpetually hovering over said button, waiting for some sort of goading from their fellows to turn the Earth into a charred husk.
Larson, memorably introduced as he’s being suffocated by an Asian call girl during an erotic asphyxiation role play, is the unlikely voice of reason in this laughable administration – given the war-hawk Secretary of Defense (Geoff Pierson) and malleable POTUS (Esai Morales), that Larson’s a philandering, alcoholic disaster doesn’t detract from the depressing fact that he’s the world’s best hope of de-escalating a nuclear crisis. Indeed, when he’s not passing a kidney stone or screwing the attractive translator (Meera Syal), Larson is berating his co-advisors into submission and all the while slyly guiding the President away from the half-wit decisions his other staffers consistently push him to make. He’s the anti-Frank Underwood, content to stay out of the spotlight and fight the good fight, manipulating the morons in charge into maintaining peace. And Robbins plays the role well, with a deft touch of screwball comedy.
Halfway around the globe in Pakistan, a low-level bureaucrat named Alex Talbot (Jack Black) is doing his best to destroy any sliver of goodwill toward the United States, spending his days at the embassy chasing skirts and buying up all the marijuana he can afford. While out on one such supply run with his driver Rafiq (Aasif Mandvi), Alex winds up in the clutches of an extremely hostile Pakistani military leader, bullshits his way out of being executed and subsequently is hurtled headfirst into the midst of an international conflict, despite lacking just about every trait a good diplomat should possess.
Essentially, we’re all screwed if Larson and Talbot, two less-than-competent but still somewhat noble-minded men, fail to de-escalate tensions. And as the pair rush around the globe, dealing with all manner of war-mongers, radicals and despots, The Brink zips through its first five half-hour installments with a seat-of-its-pants giddiness. The addition of another side-plot, involving the misadventures of two Navy pilots (Pablo Schreiber, resembling a slightly more hapless Matthew McConaughey; and Eric Ladin, a huge source of comic relief) tasked with flying a mission over Pakistan, doesn’t weigh the show down so much as add to its fast-paced, occasionally fevered feel.