“I’ll Never Be Batman” is a mostly bland, occasionally funny episode of The Brink, a mostly bland, occasionally funny television show. If you happen to like The Brink and its heightened farcical world, then there’s going to be plenty to like in the episode. If you find The Brink to be a distasteful bore that trades in smug potshots-disguised-as-satire, then “I’ll Never Be Batman” will only fuel your loathing. But if you’re like me and land somewhere in between those two extremes, you’re stuck with an episode that’s not good enough to satisfy but not bad enough to condemn. “I’ll Never Be Batman” is an episode of television that begins and ends without any fanfare, even though it literally begins with a urinary tract threatening to burst and ends with a cow stepping on a landmine.

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Here’s the barebones of the plot: Secretary Larsen lands in New Delhi to convince the Indian Foreign Minister not to invade Pakistan all while a kidney stone does more and more damage to his body by the minute. Larsen also details Talbot to go find General Raja and deliver the U.S.’ response to his demands (yes on the membership to Augusta National, no on the nuclear submarine); Talbot has to meet with Raja under the noses of the Ambassador’s men who are instructed to ship him to Baghdad. Finally, Zeke and Jammer are facing heavy fire on an armed recon mission to Pakistan and are forced to eject from their plane and parachute into the desert. Like every other episode of The Brink so far, plenty of stuff happens, but none of it has much impact or significance, so the question arises: did anything really happen at all?

This is where we get to the blandness of the episode. Structurally simplistic and dramatically shapeless, “I’ll Never Be Batman” is comfortable operating in first gear, and like the series as a whole, refuses to even broach the concept of ambition. One thing happens, then another thing happens, then another thing happens, and then finally the last thing happens. It’s often acceptable for one subplot in a half-hour comedy to do this, but when all three do it, it just becomes interminably boring. The Brink’s risk-averse storytelling makes you wish it would do something crazy, or absurd, or even truly offensive instead of just blandly offensive, so it at least appears like it stands for something. But no. One thing happens and then another thing happens.

Is “I’ll Never Be Batman” funny? Sure. There are a few stray lines I can pick out that made me chuckle (see Stray Observations), but like the previous episodes, they’re few and far between. Most of The Brink’s “jokes” are unfunny lines of dialogue that sound like jokes, or just lines of dialogue that a viewer can intellectually recognize as jokes. “I’ll Never Be Batman” is the first episode of the series not to be written by series creators Roberto and Kim Benabib but instead by Dave Holstein; however, Holstein falls into the same trap as the Benabib’s and mistakes “clever” for “funny.” Obviously those two descriptors aren’t generally mutually exclusive, but with The Brink, there’s a clear line between them.

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The episode mostly succeeds in the realm of broad physical comedy. Though I found Larsen’s kidney stone comedy to be tiring and irritating last week, it’s handled moderately well this week, with the highlights being his moaning sounds while trying to broker peace with the Indian Foreign Minister. Also, while I found Zeke’s personal epiphanies involving his relationship problems and the firefight in the air to be pretty lame, the scene on the ground with Jammer running towards him in a field of landmines made me laugh, but that’s because of Eric Ladin who’s delivering the most consistently funny performance every week. On the whole, it would be a blessing if The Brink just became a crude slapstick version of itself—people falling down, Benny Hill-style chases (preferably set to “Yakety Sax”), actual slapping—and decided to give up any real attempts at “insight” whatsoever.

Where does that leave us? Well, Larsen’s on his way to Israel against the President’s orders (because why not?), Talbot lied to Raja and said that the U.S. agreed to give him his nuclear submarine (because we still have six episodes left in the season, so why not?), and Zeke and Jammer are being held at gunpoint in the desert. There’s still plenty more things to happen on The Brink. Maybe they’ll find a way to make it cohere, or better yet, make it mean something.

Stray Observations

  • Michael Lehmann, the director behind the teen classic Heathers, directed this episode. With all due respect to Lehmann, you deserve better than this.
  • Does The Brink get off on securing John Fucking Larroquette in its show and then have him on screen for two minutes all to spout fractured lines of dialogue?
  • This is a small thing, but the closing classic rock songs absolutely drive me crazy. This week, it’s Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” last week it was Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” the week before that John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.” There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the songs by themselves, although they are overused Boomer anthems, but The Brink lazily employs them just so they can make cheap connections between current political struggles and Vietnam-era music.
  • There’s no good way to fit this into the review every week, so I’ll try to place it in the Stray Observations every week: The female characters on The Brink do little else but service the male characters, and it’s a fucking shame that the series can’t better use the talented actresses they employ.
  • “$80 million in $1000 bills. Dictators love ’em. They can frame ‘em, give ’em to their friends, good for Swiss banks, bad for everything else.”
  • “What the fuck are you wearing?”
  • “Don’t worry. I’m sure when the smoke clears, you’ll be glad you went into Iraq.”

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