The thought of mining World War III and the threat of global annihilation for laughs might seem strange to some, but that’s just what “The Brink,” HBO’s dark new political satire, aims to do.
Premiering Sunday (June 21), the 10-episode series from executive producer Jerry Weintraub (“Ocean’s Eleven,” “The Karate Kid,” “Oh, God!”) and co-creators Roberto and Kim Benabib looks at a world that goes into crisis mode when a rogue general seizes control of Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal.
As tensions rise and protests rage across the Middle East, the fate of the world rests with three disparate — and desperate — Americans: besotted, womanizing Secretary of State Walter Larson (Tim Robbins, “The Shawshank Redemption”), lowly foreign service officer Alex Talbot (Jack Black, “The School of Rock”) and ace Navy fighter pilot Zeke Tilson (Pablo Schreiber, “Orange Is the New Black”). Also in the large and talented cast are Aasif Mandvi (“The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”), Maribeth Monroe (“Workaholics”), Esai Morales (“NYPD Blue”), Eric Ladin (“The Killing”) and Geoff Pierson (“Dexter”).
At a recent gathering of TV critics in Pasadena, Calif., comparisons were made to “Dr. Strangelove,” and Roberto Benabib explains that he and brother Kim took inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1964 political satire in creating “The Brink.”
“We went to go see the Kubrick exhibit that was in town,” he says, “and we found ourselves in the ‘Dr. Strangelove’ part of the exhibit. And 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. Clearly, dramas were dealing with what was going on in the world, but comedies were more intimate and smaller and more about the lives we lead during our daily existence.
“And when I was growing up, it was in the ’70s, and comedies were ‘Catch 22’ and ‘M*A*S*H’ and ‘Getting Straight’ and ‘Dr. Strangelove,’ and 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.”
And Black says it was that uniqueness that drew him in, as well as “the fact that it dealt with, you know, Middle Eastern politics and was a comedy, was just very fresh and exciting, and I wanted to party with these guys.
“And yet we had a lot of different directors,” he continues. “When you say, ‘Does the director let me do whatever I want?’ You know, the first director … Jay Roach, I’ve always wanted to work with him. And he had very clear, cool ideas of what he was expecting from me. And Tim Robbins … directed the second episode. … And we’ve got a great history. I was in ‘Bob Roberts’ (Robbins’ directorial debut), which was a political comedy and it was … a cool thing to be working with [him] again, and, yeah, I had a great time even when I was, like, being waterboarded.”
Adds Robbins, laughing, “Somehow we made that fun.”