Sometimes they come up with the occasional series that’s a turkey as other networks regularly do. Not very often, but it happens tonight with “The Brink” (HBO, 10:30 p.m.), a rare and major misstep that’s perhaps their worst series since “Secrets of the Married Man.”
A clumsy attempt at bringing a “Dr. Strangelove” sensibility into the mire of current international relations, it falls flat from the first moments of seeing Tim Robbins as a boorish Secretary of State with his pants down, who is forced to use a useless foreign service officer to make his way through Pakistan. That he gets waterboarded is supposed to be hilarious.
Assif Mandvi helps things just a smudge since he also lends a hand in writing the tin-eared script, but Pablo Schreiber will make you yearn for the subtlety of Chill Wills, riding an H-bomb to oblivion.
“The Brink” seems to be the result of the network refusing to say no to producer Jerry Weintraub, whose work they’ve presented before (and who was subject of a documentary a few years back as well).
HBO executive vice president of entertainment Casey Bloys said as much in introducing “The Brink” at the TV Critics Association winter press tour earlier this year.
“When Jerry Weintraub calls you and says he has something great, you pay attention,” Bloys in fact said.
And Weintraub himself couldn’t quite understand why reporters didn’t instantly declare “The Brink” a classic or kept comparing it to “Strangelove” or even the ham-handed political satire of that moment (which proved much more effective anyway), “The Interview.”
we have nothing to do with “The Interview,” he declared. “We’re not here to talk about “The Interview.” Kim Jong-un is not in this show.”
So he plowed on.
“We made a show that’s entertaining with great writers, great actors, and great ideas, and that’s where we’re coming from, and we think the world will be entertained by this, and we’re all over that.”
Weintraub denied that it only portrayed the diplomatic corps as stupid.
“They’re funny,” he said. “The whole world is funny from our eyes, everything that’s going on in the world and with everybody.”
Weintraub wasn’t asked, but he said when he got the script from the brother team of Roberto and Kim Benabib, “I flipped out, and I thought it was fantastic, and I was really happy. I bought it ten minutes after I got it, after I read it, and I sold it to HBO about ten minutes after that.”
The slapdash deal is reflected in the slapdash stab at satire.
Premium cable is a place where movie stars tend to go, but for Jack Black, who starts as the foreign diplomat, it seems like a pronounced step down. His touch can’t bring anything to this material.
He last worked with Robbins on “Bob Roberts,” which was a much better political satire.
Roberto Benabib said he was inspired to do “The Brink” when he saw the “Strangelove” materials at a recent Kubrick exhibition.
“It was interesting because, as much as we loved that film, we realized there wasn’t a lot like it at the present moment in the world of comedy,” he said. We just felt: here’s something you’re not seeing a lot of, and this is a real opportunity. So we started to think what would a film in this genre be, a TV show, and we just started to come up with it.”
Even so, Weintraub had to be heard on the topic. “we didn’t do “Dr. Strangelove.” We got inspiration from a great film, inspiration. We didn’t steal any story or storylines. This has exactly great characters and great stories, stands on its own, and we made it for entertainment value, and we know we did it. We knocked it out of the park, and we’re real happy, and we hope you guys feel the same way.”