Over the course of five episodes, it becomes clear that, though Larson and Talbot are highly watchable leads, one of The Brink‘s strongest assets is its unusually well-formed crew of supporting players. Larson’s long-suffering aide (Maribeth Monroe) often goes above and beyond for her boss, from sneaking alcohol into the war room to fishing his cell phone out of an un-flushed urinal, and her big-eyed “are-you-kidding-me” face is on the level of Veep‘s Anna Chlumsky’s (someone get these two a spinoff, stat). As Rafiq, Daily Show correspondent Mandvi exercises the same shocked-senseless anger and disbelief that he honed on that comedy show, playing off Talbot’s over-the-top arrogance with a quick wit. And Ladin is a comedic secret weapon as the baby-faced, eternally day-dreaming co-pilot.
In a slightly smaller role, Carla Gugino excels as Larson’s politically motivated wife, who’s his equal in every way – including infidelity. By giving the show’s leading men such ample support, The Brink avoids the issue of relying entirely on two actors whose performances lean more toward showy screwball comedy than restrained sardonic wit. It’s through the supporting players that the series is able to deliver most of its most bruising lines.
The down-side of The Brink‘s hyperactive approach to its chronologically compact narrative is that, despite Larson functioning as a Bill Clinton-esque linchpin for world peace, much of the humor seems derived less from geopolitically conscious skewering and more from the dirty-minded, rapid-fire banter between its characters.
Nothing is too serious in The Brink, which expends more time than necessary ragging on a minor character’s impressive manhood and leers at another’s breasts and behind, but only name-drops Osama bin Laden and misses most opportunities to paint most of the Middle Eastern population as anything more than an angry mob (says Talbot as he witnesses protesters flood through the streets, “That’s no gay pride parade”). On a network like HBO, and with the similarly themed Veep taking great relish in how it eviscerates the state of domestic politics, it’s frustrating that The Brink can’t seem to (or, perhaps more aptly, doesn’t try to) get its mind out of the gutter. In that way, the series is actually perfectly titled – with its ballsy premise and flashes of wit, the show seems perennially on the brink of being truly great, with only its over-reliance on easy punchlines holding it back at this fledgling stage.
That the threat of nuclear armageddon only accelerates the volume of dick jokes in The Brink's war room is at one level deeply amusing but at another somewhat frustrating, especially given how the gutsy premise sets up a much smarter and more stinging satire than this appears to be.