Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Brink: “Swim, Shmuley, Swim”

Illustration for article titled The Brink: “Swim, Shmuley, Swim”

One of the most confounding aspects of The Brink is its insistence on geographically separating the three main storylines. Though the frequent crosscutting between different locations gives the episodes a sort of dynamism and forward momentum, it also forces each storyline to live and die on its own with barely any structural or narrative binding to hold them together. It’s obviously not a necessity for a serialized show like The Brink to keep all its subplots close to the vest, but it would certainly provide more cohesion and potency to some key moments, like when Larsen discovers Raja has fled Pakistan with the $80 million. It’s possible The Brink is playing the long game by keeping its principal characters apart—I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a bottle episode with everyone together in the back half of the season—but in the meantime, it often creates an inconsistent tone from episode to episode.

But that persistent structural problem becomes less of an issue when an episode delivers laughs instead of simply advancing the plot. “Swim, Shmuley, Swim” is easily the funniest episode of The Brink to date because it heavily leans on the series’ core silliness. Of course, comedy is largely subjective and I’m sure there are some people who find The Brink’s mild skewering of geopolitical activities hilarious, but with five episodes in, I can safely say that the series is funniest when it indulges in exaggerated farce. “Swim, Shmuley, Swim” also recognizes the strength of its two comedic pairings—Zeke and Jammer, Alex and Rafiq—and relies on them to drive much of the humor. Some of the comedy can be a little obvious, like Alex speaking to Pakistani schoolgirls like they’re tiny children only for them to proverbially roll their eyes at him in their mother tongue, but The Brink is at least going for the laugh instead of peppering it in between plot points.

The funniest of the three main storylines is Zeke and Jammer’s journey in the desert. After evading capture from armed assailants, complete with Jammer attempting to placate them with Arabic phrases written on a piece of paper, they struggle to find their plane amidst the heat and sand. After passing out, they’re eventually “saved” by two eccentric wealthy British thieves who bring them to their remote home, feed them, and force them to stay as they are surrounded by 100 miles of desert and Taliban. Rob Brydon and Michelle Gomez are excellent as broad caricatures of smarmy elites bickering over synonyms, Margaret Atwood, and Gary Cooper while holding two “dumbstruck” American Navy men in their presence. Plus, like always, almost every line out of Jammer’s mouth is gold, especially his constant interruptions at dinner to praise their captors’ food (“The way the rice dances with the chicken! Fuckin’ A!”).

Second, we have Alex and Rafiq going out to find Rafiq’s sister Fareeda (Melanie Kannokada) who’s still stuck at the school where she teaches. When they get there and discover Fareeda is protecting seven Pakistani schoolgirls who are boarding students, they decide to take them to the American embassy for food and shelter. Though it’s a little tired and, yes, creepy that The Brink returns again to Alex’s pushy attraction towards Rafiq’s sister, it’s mostly palatable because the series is somewhat self-aware of Alex’s boorishness, albeit still in a halfway flattering way, and that the comedy depends on Jack Black and Aasif Mandvi playing off each other. The scene when they’re entering the school with the two of them sniping back and forth is one of the funniest scenes of the series, and it makes me wish for an episode that just features the two of them trading barbed insults. Plus, the story ends with a scene with John Larroquette as the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan that almost justifies the series underusing his skills: When he sees the seven schoolgirls, he assumes they are a sign of the coming apocalypse, and embraces their presence with open arms. It’s a funny, mostly quiet moment that works because of the awe-struck face of Larroquette coupled with the utterly shocked expressions from Mandvi and Black.

Finally, we have the blandest story of the week with Larsen trying to convince the Israeli prime minister to hold off on a strike against Pakistan over the President’s orders. It’s not that Larsen’s plot this week is bad, it’s just boring, as he mostly rattles off talking points the entire time. It’s a shame that the Benabib’s decide to place most of the macro narrative in the hands of Robbins because he’s forced to play diplomat instead of comedian. But considering the last two episodes, I’ll call “Swim, Shmuley, Swim” a mild success despite the Larsen plot. Here’s hoping that momentum will continue next week.

Stray Observations

  • This week’s closing classic rock song: The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”.
  • Another funny moment was Larsen and Alex speaking in code over the phone. “Sir, I’d love to screw Jesus, but his butt is…too tight? I’m sorry, talking like this is hard.”
  • I really hope that Alex and Fareeda don’t end up together by the end of the season, but it wouldn’t remotely surprise me if they did.
  • Maribeth Monroe plays Larsen’s assistant and the most she does this week is rip his catheter out of his penis. I mean, come on.
  • “You don’t get to walk behind me and hold a crowbar!”
  • “Oh, you missed this, Alex came by the house the other day and started another fucking coup.” “But it’s a good coup!”
  • “That boner guy is cool as fuck.”
  • “Fetch the thesaurus!”
  • “Why is he talking to us like we’re Hobbits?”