Jack Black and Tim Robbins may be on the brink of fantastically entertaining television, but the comedy duo is still merely echoing satirical legends of decades past.
In their new show, The Brink, which premiered on HBO Sunday, alongside heavyweight title True Detective and the Entourage influenced Ballers, Black and Robbins play State department officials reluctantly assigned with the task of preventing a third world war after temperamental protests break out in Pakistan.
Robbins plays Secretary of State Walter Larson; a highly functioning alcoholic who cares little about the violent under stirrings of covert terrorist organizations hidden within the bowels of foreign countries and more about fulfilling his questionable –most definitely- racist sexual fantasies. Within the first five minutes of the show, Robbins is tied up to a bedpost, begging a Cambodian girl to pretend to suffocate him with a pillow, or at the very least, allow him to pretend to kill her.
“Why do all of your sexual fantasies involve you getting murdered,” she asks him after refusing to play along.
“Why do all of your sexual fantasies involve you fleeing Cambodia in a cardboard container,” Robbins responds as facetiously as one can.
“That story wasn’t a sexual fantasy. That was my childhood.”
This conversation sets the tone for the rest of the pilot. The majority of the show’s jokes center on the worldly ignorance of the most important and thought to be well read American citizens, not so subtly putting the idiocy of government officials front and center in this fictional town square, allowing surrounding characters to continuously pelt them with verbal tomatoes.
While there were promising moments and scenes within the show, the episode still compartmentalizes itself into time old clichés.
Take Jack Black’s character, Alex Talbot; a low-profile jester who’s accidentally thrust into the underbelly of one of Pakistan’s most contemptuous regimes and forced to become one of the top American agency workers in the country.
Partnered only with Rafi, a driver for the various employees working at the American embassy, Talbot tries to gather as much information as he can about the unfolding regime without any prior knowledge of the country’s political landscape.
“Our son informs us that your ignorance of all things Pakistani is truly astonishing,” Rafi’s mother tells Talbot upon first meeting him. “A sight to behold. I can not witness it for myself.”
There’s no doubt that the show does an excellent job of pointing out every moronic aspect the American government employs in its foreign diplomacy, but despite being the constant target for jokes, there’s still a whiff of systematic racism that wafts in from time to time.
After General Umair Zaman takes over Pakistani television and asks for their people to help overthrow the Western influence in their land – after spurting out rumors of hormone controlling drones – Rafi’s uncle, a renowned psychologist, informs Alex that the man is certified crazy. Not eccentric, but absolutely loony.
It’s, unfortunately, not an uncommon connotation reflected in today’s media. The American officials may be overly sexual, victims to their own vices, and downright stupid, but they’re not crazy. A foreign leader, however, is without question, insane. Barbaric, even. It’s a form of racism that’s very much alive today, and the show decides to continue playing into that manifested hyperbole than use its satirical groundwork to question the reasoning behind it.
Still, despite it’s obvious flaws, the show certainly shows some promise. Most of the jokes did elicit an actual laugh and the points of satire may become more focused and apparent as the series wanes on.
The Brink is struggling to emulate iconic satire like Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, but until the show finds its own footing and own voice to shout from, it will remain a subpar homage.