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'The Brink' creators satirize national security on the way to a possible World War 3

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Jack Black and Aasif Mandvi star in HBO's "The Brink."
Jack Black and Aasif Mandvi star in HBO's "The Brink."

Tim Robbins stars as a secretary of state with a thing for prostitutes and alcohol. Between benders, he must deal with a crisis that could spark World War 3.

In HBO’s political satire "The Brink," Tim Robbins stars as secretary of state Walter Larson, who has a thing for prostitutes and alcohol. Between his benders, he must figure out what to do about an international crisis that could spark World War 3.

Rounding out the main cast of the political satire is Jack Black as a lowly foreign service officer and Aasif Mandvi as a local Pakistani working for the U.S. embassy. 

The show was created by Roberto and Kim Benabib, two brothers who have different backgrounds in the arts. Roberto is a television veteran, who worked on the shows "Weeds" and "Ally McBeal." Kim is a novelist, whose books include “Obscene Bodies.”

The Benabib brothers talked with the Frame about how HBO picked up their series, why they chose music from the Vietnam era and how they balance comedy with issues of national security. 

Interview Highlights

How important is it that the scenarios in the show are actually realistic?

Kim Benabib: We wanted to have it be grounded and to take a situation that we knew was right up there as far as the most feared scenarios that are gamed out in Washington, and then throw these characters and load them up comically. So you have Walter Larson, the secretary of state, he's coming off this bender with this prostitute and he's a heavy drinker. He walks into the situation room at pretty much the most tense moment that any of these national security specialists could dream up. 

How as writers do you try to balance what's definitely real and definitely unpleasant with what you're trying to do in an entertaining and comedic way?

Roberto Benabib: The bottom line is the banter could almost be real banter of people who are stationed there having to deal with these things, and in a "M*A*S*H"-like way make light of them so that they can deal with them on a daily basis. So as long as we kept the banter as real, as long as these are smart, tense, funny people joking with each other, but joking with each other in the square and for the purpose of lightening their load a little bit so they can carry on and do what they have to do, that was really the goal here. 

KB: And also I think when you look at something like that torture sequence with Jack Black and his character Alex Talbot about to be waterboarded, and the captain says to him, "You know this is a technique your CIA taught us." The idea being that we're going to take a moment that's tense and quite dark and then maybe reveal some truth through the humor. Could comedy get at the truth in a way that some of these hour-long dramas were side-stepping or glossing over?

You clearly have some very specific ideas on how you use music in the show. You have had some Vietnam-era rock anthems on the show, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son," John Lennon's "Instant Karma." What are you trying to say in your musical choices?

RB: The Vietnam era is where the films, the comedies that we are trying to pay homage to came from. That's when we had "Dr. Strangelove" and "Network" and "M*A*S*H" and "Catch-22." It's because the Vietnam era was an era where, to put it bluntly, white, middle-class college kids were getting draft cards in the mail, and it required that they pay attention to what was going on in the world and who we were starting wars with. 

Listen to the interview to hear more from Kim and Roberto Benabib.

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