For all of its mediocrity, The Brink is actually a fascinating example of the pitfalls of serialized television. Though the rise of serialization has certainly produced some great television, and not to mention the primary reason for TV’s mainstream critical acceptance, it has also created new structural storytelling problems for many shows coming out of the pipeline. A serialized show has to simultaneously uphold the macro seasonal narrative and the weekly micro episodic narratives. However, the latter has to operate as a function of the former and as its own discrete story. This probably sounds really obvious, especially because anyone who’s reading this most likely has an awareness of how serialized TV storytelling works, but it’s important to reiterate for no other reason than to illustrate how hard it is to do well. A smart serialized show has to juggle many balls in the air while also hiding the fact that it’s juggling at all. There’s a reason why many of the very best shows falter at this very task.
Halfway through The Brink’s first season, it’s safe to say that the series’ main issue is that it privileges the macro seasonal narrative over the weekly micro narratives. The Brink is so interested in moving all of its pieces around so that they line up exactly where they need to be that it forgets that “moving pieces around” isn’t always compelling to watch. That coupled with maintaining three separate plots with little overlap makes for a show that’s mostly concerned with pushing its story forward rather than entertaining its audience.
“Tweet Tweet Tweet” is a perfect example of how The Brink gets too caught up in the big picture. This week, Secretary Larsen tries to suss out the location of Raja from his wife Joanne; Talbot learns that Ambassador Kittredge believes the seven Pakistani schoolgirls he brought to the embassy are a sign of the apocalypse; and Zeke and Glenn desperately attempt to gain access to a phone from their British captors who apparently want them to engage in some sexual role-playing for them. None of these stories are remotely interesting because they are too indebted to the seasonal narrative. Larsen has to learn Raja’s location for next week’s episode to function or make any sense, but basically all he does this week is beg his wife to get the information he needs. Talbot’s seven schoolgirls will necessarily play an important role in the back half of the season, but in order for that to happen, they have to be isolated in the embassy this week, along with Talbot, Rafiq, and Fareeda. Zeke and Glenn have the most dynamic story of the week (mostly because they’re dressed in ridiculous outfits, they have to tend to an arrow wound sustained during the role-play, and both Pablo Schreiber and Eric Laden are great at playing appalled and dumb respectively) and the most that happens to them is that they get captured again, this time by the warlord’s son.
There are some nice, borderline-clever moments in “Tweet Tweet Tweet” here and there. The reveal that the seven schoolgirls’ Twitter accounts has gotten the attention of General Zaman, all because Talbot gave them the embassy Wi-Fi password, is nicely handled, especially with Larroquette as the Ambassador spouting his apocalyptic babble at the end. Zeke and Glenn trying to get out of their strange sexual enslavement had a few laughs, mostly because of the performances and less because of the writing. The “Uncle Creepy” nickname for Talbot has somewhat won me over as a nice recurring joke. But all of these moments are too few and far between, and they’re surrounded by too much unfunny banter and unnecessary exposition for them to really register.
It’s a shame because “Tweet Tweet Tweet” had an opportunity to flesh out Larsen’s relationship with his wife, or add some depth to Fareeda’s character beyond “Rafiq’s sister and Talbot’s object of affection,” but because of storytelling necessities, none of this is possible. Carla Gugino is a fantastic actress and she’s relegated to playing the role of Main Character’s Wife Who Doesn’t Take Shit From Her Husband But Eventually Gives Him What He Needs. Fareeda shares a brief scene alone with Talbot where we learn exactly nothing about her we don’t already know. The Brink has completely underserved every female character that has passed through its frame, assigning them to be assistants, wives, mistresses, prostitutes, or sisters of other characters. None of them have much characterization beyond their plot function, but to be fair, it’s not like any of the other secondary characters have strong characterizations either, and even the main cast could use some work.
The Brink wants to tell a story about three sets of unlikely heroes trying to stop a geopolitical crisis. It’s an ambitious idea for a half-hour comedy, and one that could certainly work in the right hands, but it’s way too invested in its season-long narrative to care about characters or humor. The Brink has the strange problem of missing the trees for the forest, as if it’s unaware that they’re wasting a talented cast so that they can tell a “complete” story.
- Classic Rock Song of the Week: “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan.
- I completely forgot that Zeke was a drug dealer until Glenn reminded us, if that says anything about the series’ storytelling.
- Oh by the way, Zeke and Glen are apparently in “Tribal Region, Pakistan” in case you were curious about The Brink’s level of interest in the country.
- Fareeda and Talbot are totally going to get together by the end of the season, and that’s just depressing.
- John Larroquette talking about his dream was…funny isn’t the right word, but acceptably nice.
- “Who’d like some pistachio sticky cake?” “Fuck no! I’m done, man. I’m stuffed.”
- “Can’t we just normal fuck her?”
- “Have you had a second dream, hopefully one that negates the first?”