The Brink review: “Despite its near-the-knuckle bravado, the humour is often clunkingly old-fashioned”

HBO's new political satire starring Jack Black and Tim Robbins lacks the wit or subtlety of its acclaimed predecessors

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Meet the main characters in this comedy from Weeds exec producer Roberto Benabib and his novelist brother Kim. An alcoholic, perverted Secretary of State (Tim Robbins), a hopped-up, drug-dealing jet fighter pilot (Orange Is the New Black’s Pablo Schrieber), and a sex-crazed, dope-smoking diplomat at the US embassy in Islamabad (Jack Black). Spot a theme? It’s lewd and crude all the way.

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The episode begins with the Secretary of State tied up naked on a hotel bed, with a Cambodian prostitute suffocating him. From there no depth is left unplumbed. When asked by his aide if he’d read some briefing documents, the Secretary replies,  “Unless they were encrypted on the vaginal walls of an Asian call girl, no.”

Though it’s from the same HBO stable as edgy, sweary comedies Curb Your Enthusiasm and Veep, The Brink has none of their wit or subtlety. Oh look, that pilot has popped the wrong pill while flying a highly sensitive mission and is tripping out at the controls of a heavily armed supersonic jet. Hilarious.

The plot revolves around a coup in Pakistan, after which the psychotic new military leader, General Umair Zaman, is calling for the end of US drone flights over his country, because he believes they are making Pakistanis infertile. Not because they’re blowing them up, but because of some strange technology he ascribes to a Zionist plot. As a consequence he wants to nuke Israel.

The most shocking thing is that Zaman is played by Iqbal Theba, the lovely Principal Figgis from Glee. I suppose having to endlessly listen to Journey covers is enough to send anyone psychotic and want to start blowing things up.

The coup sees Jack Black locked out of the embassy during a riotous demonstration and taking shelter at the home of his driver’s family, and Tim Robbins stuck in the White House Situation Room trying to hold off hawkish generals wanting to launch a pre-emptive strike against Pakistan, while nursing a terrible hangover.

The scenes in the Situation Room are the best and most nuanced, and also highlight the show’s covert message: sex and booze and drugs are for the good guys; abstinence is for the bad guys.

Incendiary stuff, but despite its near-the-knuckle bravado, the humour is often clunkingly old-fashioned. Witness the Pakistani family (including Meera Syal) arguing in Urdu over whether to turn in Jack Black as a CIA agent, then telling him sweetly, “We were just discussing how much we admire US foreign policy.”

All the leads give fine performances: Jack Black is Jack Black; Pablo Schrieber is edginess personified; and Tim Robbins exudes a sleazy, liberal charm. But the script does not match their efforts. Stay away from The Brink.

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The Brink continues on Mondays at 10.10pm on Sky Atlantic