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Tim Robbins is on 'The Brink' - And That's a Good Thing
January 9, 2015  | By David Bianculli  | 2 comments

PASADENA, CA – Seven years ago, Tim Robbins appeared before the National Association of Broadcasters, begging them to do better, more meaningful work. Now he’s on HBO, walking the walk as part of the team presenting The Brink…

The Brink is a 10-episode filmed comedy series premiering this summer on HBO, starring Robbins, Jack Black, Aasif Mandvi, Pablo Schreiber, Carla Gugino and John Larroquette. It’s a dark political satire in which the U.S. suddenly finds itself on the brink of World War III, dealing with an unstable political crisis – and a mentally unstable Pakistani leader.

The series, produced by Jerry Weintraub with a pilot written by Roberto and Kim Benabib and directed by Jay Roach, caroms between the Middle East and the White House situation room, between bedrooms and boardrooms, and from airborne bomber pilots to street-level government employees. In many ways, this politically current new TV series has echoes of a very old, very classic Cold War satire: Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 masterwork, Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

And that is by no means an accident.

Roberto Benabib told reporters at the Television Critics Association HBO press event Thursday that he and his brother had visited the Kubrick museum exhibit, and been inspired all over again by the scope and tone of the movie, its sets, and its audacity. Presto: a modern equivalent, produced at a time of intense global tensions, just as Strangelove was, shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis.     

“I watched Dr. Strangelove again after I got cast in this, and found points of inspiration from it,” Mondvi said. “I spent seven years on The Daily Show doing news format satire, and this was exciting for me, being able to delve into a character. That’s what Dr. Strangelove did.”

“Tonally,” added The Brink executive producer and pilot director Roach, “what we got from Strangelove was that it was a comedy that took place in the real world, which is what we’re trying to do. But we also got something else from Strangelove, even more so. Strangelove had a plot that could have held its own and not had any humor in it. It was a wonderful story. It really was a thrilling ride…

“We kind of made a vow that our story would hold its own, whether we were being funny or not. It would be believable, it would be grounded, and it would be real.”

Robbins, who stars, is a producer, and directed the second episode, is very proud about the team assembled for The Brink – and for being able to do something topical, edgy and meaningful on TV in the first place. After the press session, I chatted with Robbins briefly, and privately, about his obvious enthusiasm for his new project. The initial script had grabbed him – and the more episodes they filmed, the more excited he was by what they were doing.

“I was like, ‘I can’t believe we’re doing this,’ number one. And then, as the season progressed, it was like, ‘I can’t believe we’re getting away with this.’ Because it does not shy away from what it could potentially say…

"It’s a great group of writers, a great production team. I felt really blessed – and mind you, this is after saying no to TV for the last four or five years.”

“HBO – they have balls. They produce Bill Maher on a regular basis. Look at the movies that they produce. They don’t shy away from the world the way it is.”

(Neither does Robbins, who shares that particular testicular attribute with HBO. In 2008, Robbins and I appeared as the keynote presentation for NAB, where he boldly and bravely read a speech that the event organizers had asked him not to. You can find the story of that speech in the archives of Bianculli’s Blog, and it’s very heartening to observe that Robbins, after all these years, continues to put his talent where his mouth is. Unless that sounds rude, in which case I reserve the right to extend and revise my remarks.)


Overall, in the wake of international reverberations over the terrorist attack on a French satirical magazine in Paris, it was a good day for satirists. HBO announced that Real Time with Bill Maher, which begins Season 13 tonight (Friday), has been renewed for Seasons 14 and 15, putting Maher on the air through 2017. Meanwhile, rival premium cable service Showtime announced the renewal of David Steinberg’s Inside Comedy interview series for Season 4, with a guest list that includes Stephen Colbert, Michael Keaton, Bryan Cranston, Ted Danson and Dan Aykroyd. Good news – and good comedy – all around.

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Alys again
D'oh, meant "Hebdo".
Jan 9, 2015   |  Reply
Alys L
Hi Mr. B,
I'm a long time reader and love your site and your Fresh Air reviews. :-)

Sorry to be a nudge, but I just wanted to point out what i think is a mistake. Halfway through the article, you write:
"I watched Dr. Strangelove again after I got cast in this, and found points of inspiration from it,” Ansari said.

a. Did you mean Aziz Ansari who is a comedian on Parks and Rec (and i think is not part of the Daliy Show staff.)
b. Or did you mean Aasif Mandvi, who as of Tuesday was still on the Daily Show, and not in the past tense. (check out the excellent segment Nazi Cows following the discussion of the Benbo shooting.)

I always look forward to reading and hearing your work!
Jan 9, 2015   |  Reply
Linda Donovan
We had Mr. Mandvi's name correct earlier in the post but you're correct -- and the quote attribution was not! Thank you, Alys.
Jan 10, 2015
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