One could be forgiven for thinking HBO’s new geopolitical satire The Brink bears a strong resemblance to Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 classic Dr. Strangelove. The similarities are many, from the subject matter (trying to prevent World War III) to the structure (three separate but connected stories: one in the halls of power, one on the ground, and one in a war plane).
It’s a tough bar to clear, as Dr. Strangelove is the rare comedy that’s still funny 50 years on, so dead-on was its take on the fragile state of war and peace. But Tim Robbins, who costars with Jack Black, Aasif Mandvi, Esai Morales, John Larroquette, Carla Gugino, and Pablo Schrieber, doesn’t shrink from the comparison: “That was pretty much the model we were working from,” Robbins told the New York Times. “Satire is a form I love, but it’s not done much because it’s so hard.”
“We grew up with shows like ‘MASH’ that were able to look at world events through comedy,” series creator Roberto Benabib told the Los Angeles Times. “But then TV turned into a Seinfeldian place, where comedy was about interpersonal relationships. And we looked at each other and said, ‘Why does it have to be that way? Why is the only satire you see in mock newscasts like Jon Stewart?’”
Probably because Robbins is right: Satire is hard. In today’s polarized political climate, any clear point of view risks alienating half the country, but without a point of view, there’s no comedy.
But there are recent examples of political satire done well; one need look no further than to HBO’s other political series, the incredibly hilarious and astute Veep, now finishing its fourth season. The brilliance of Veep is that the policies and the party of the Meyer Administration are entirely beside the point; the shallow pettiness that drives the people who work on both sides of the aisle is the real target of the show.
“We’re not making a political statement, and we’re not taking a side,” series producer Jerry Weintraub told the L.A. Times. “Our government has as many problems as the Pakistani government.”
Indeed, fear of armageddon – or at least a vested interest in not experiencing it – crosses party lines. “Everyone sort of has this sort of thing in the back of their head, this dread that something bad is going to happen at some point,” Jack Black told Variety. “So I think it’s refreshing to be able to laugh at this whole situation. If you can laugh at something that’s scary, then you’re better off.”
Watch the series premiere of The Brink Sunday night at 10:30 ET on HBO.