CBS, which has been a bit of a pioneer when it comes to launching new, original series during the former wasteland of summer reruns has come up with a new series that seems particularly prescient in our current political climate. The Good Wife creators Michelle and Robert King present BrainDead, a satirical look into what actually makes politicians tick.
In the first episode we meet Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a struggling documentary filmmaker with a very political family. On a brief return home, she’s cajoled by her father to stay in town for a year to work for her brother, a prominent Democrat in Congress. In exchange, he’ll pay off her student loan. She agrees, but only for six months.
Thrown into a constituent services position, Laurel meets a woman who claims her husband is no longer her husband, and presents Laurel with a video showing something strange happening on the cargo ship where he worked. It turns out her brother’s office arranged for transport of the crate, which contained some kind of meteorite that had recently crashed in Russia, supposedly to have it studied and displayed in the Smiothsonian. But a totally preventable government shutdown, leaves the artifact unattended and then things begin to happen.
BrainDead aims to blend satire and horror as it skewers both sides of the aisle in Washington. Obviously with the main characters being Democrats, the Republicans take the brunt of the poking, but in the case of the shutdown, Laurel’s brother Luke (Danny Pino) is explicitly implicit in letting it happen when he could have easily made a deal with the one Republican (Tony Shalhoub) who could have swung the vote the other way. Now thousands of staff are out of work, and Luke really doesn’t seem to mind as long as he gets what he wants.
Besides Laurel, Luke and Senator Wheatus, we’re also introduced to Gareth Ritter (Aaron Tveit), aide to Wheatus and the man who actually pulls the strings as his boss only cares about “getting laid and getting drunk.” Ritter was the one who actually came up with the deal for Senator Healy, $43 million for autism research (because his sister is autistic), and he obviously has bigger political designs but at some point he is probably going to have to team up with Laurel to stop the goings-on in the city.
Which brings us back to that meteorite. After the scientists were escorted from the building during the shutdown, the artifact burst open, spewing forth what looked like an army of ants. Finding their way to a broken window, they made their way into the city. At the home of the woman who met with Laurel about her concerns for her husband, the couple prepares for bed but the husband puts his wife into a headlock as the alien insects march into the room through the window and … into her ear. The next day, she and her husband both pay a visit to the senator’s office acting like nothing was wrong.
Laurel notices other people are suddenly starting to act strange, and in every case the stricken individuals have a penchant for playing the song “You Might Think” by The Cars over and over again. What’s the connection to the alien bugs? That, hopefully, is information yet to come.
The premiere episode was well put-together and the cast was strong, particularly Winstead, who seems to have found herself a nice niche in genre pieces after her roles in the remake of The Thing and this year’s thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane. She really has the talent to pull off a character who is intelligent and curious, and we really want to root for her to figure out what’s going on. Tveit will probably be a good foil for her as his laser focus on his career will most likely begin to crumble when more and more people come under the control of the alien parasites.
The episode, with the improbably long title “The Insanity Principle: How Extremism in Politics Is Threatening Democracy in the 21st Century” (and the first three episodes all have these long titles), did a good job of setting up the scenario and building the mystery before the big reveal. There were touches of humor which I hope will be expanded upon as the series progresses. For what amounts to an origin story, there was little time wasted in the set-up. We know who all the main characters are, we know something is afoot, and we’re left with just enough of a tease to get us to tune in again next week.
I know I will. How about you?
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