The Brink, HBO

Created by Roberto Benabib and Kim Benabib

Starring Jack Black, Tim Robbins, Pablo Schreiber

Co-Starring Aasif Mandvi, Maribeth Monroe, Eric Ladin, Esai Morales and Geoff Pierson


On HBO starting June 21, 2015 10:30-11:00 p.m. ET/PT

IMBd link

This terrific new ten-part HBO series, part dark comedy, part cautionary tale, explores a geopolitical world crisis through the eyes of three unlikely men, whose streaks of bravery and immaturity may control “the fate of the world as we know it.”

Alex Talbot, a low-level U.S. Foreign Service bureaucrat stationed in Pakistan, is broadly played by Jack Black (Golden Globe nominee for “School of Rock” and “Bernie”). Although many assume that he is a spy, in reality, Talbot has been rejected by the CIA twice. If he’s not smoking weed, he’s doing something vague about Pakistani waste water.

Secretary of State Walter Larson, well-acted by Tim Robbins (Best Supporting Actor Oscar® winner for “Mystic River,” Best Director Oscar® nominee for “Dead Man Walking”), would much rather spend his time playing drunken sex games than advising the President. Luckily for him, his experienced, long-suffering aide, Kendra Peterson (Maribeth Monroe) knows everything he needs to know.

Our third anti-hero is Zeke “Z-Pak” Tilson (Pablo Schreiber), an ace Navy fighter pilot stationed on a ship in the Red Sea, who supplements his meager salary by selling uppers and other pharmaceuticals to his mates. His ex-wife, Ashley (Mary Faber) will continue to be his supplier so long as he’s current with his alimony. But, how can he stay current without the extra income from selling his “product?” It’s no wonder that he finds it hard to concentrate on flying his plane.

The pilot episode (the only one available to me) leaps right into the plot that intertwines our three worthies. When Alex Talbot and his driver Rafiq (nice performance by Aasif Mandvi) head toward the bazaar in Islamabad so that Alex can supplement his stash of weed, they run into a violent protest. A literally crazy general has taken over Pakistan, including its nuclear weapons, and is threatening to use them.

The scene shifts to a cabinet meeting in Washington, D.C. in which Secretary of State Larson is the sole voice of reason amid the hawkish generals, notably Secretary of Defense Grey (Geoff Pierson). The hawk and dove engage in the kind of boyish argument we hope is merely funny and unrealistic, but we know has kernels of truth. There is definitely a nod in this program to Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1964 film, “Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”

And that’s the beauty of “The Brink.” Not only is it a smart-looking, fast-paced show, but it also makes us smile and cringe at the same time. We would like to think that people in power are serious, knowledgeable deep-thinkers, but perhaps they are more like the trio in “The Brink,” screwed up just like the rest of us.

For a half-hour show, “The Brink,” well-directed by Jay Roach, is complex and expensive-looking. The creators of the series, and writers of the first episode, Roberto Benabib (“Weeds”) and his brother, Kim Benabib, have developed a great concept, with clever writing, and characters we like, despite their obvious flaws.

San Francisco ,
Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for