June 14, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “BrainDead”


BRAINDEAD:  Monday 10PM on CBS – Potential DVR Alert

The Good Wife was always as much about politics as the law.  And while it was officially a serious drama that dealt with Big Issues, Dark Themes and Edgy Characters, it was sneakily one of TV’s funniest sophisticated comedies.  So Robert and Michelle King’s segue to a tale about brain-eating bugs from outer space in the DC satire BRAINDEAD isn’t quite as weird as it looks.

The setting this time is Washington, but once again, the Kings have centered their story on a woman who’s much more skilled at pragmatic, strategic thinking than she–or anyone else–gives her credit for.  Here it’s Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), younger sister of Democratic Senator Luke (Danny Pino) and daughter of power broker Dean (Good Wife‘s Zach Grenier).  She’s a serious-minded documentary filmmaker talked by her father into taking a job in her brother’s office so she can serve as her father’s spy (in return, he’ll finance her latest utterly uncommercial project).  She starts her new position just as Congress is on the verge of a government shutdown caused by the failure of Republicans and Democrats to reach a budget deal.

So far, so (sadly) politics as usual.  (Steady soundbites from presumptive nominees Trump and Clinton in the background make it clear that this is occurring in our election universe.)  But while BrainDead and Veep share a helplessly laughing fascination with political idiocity, BrainDead provides a literal explanation:  at the same time as Laurel’s arrival in town, a meteorite has crashed to earth, and when it’s conveyed to DC, mysterious bugs start scurrying out, bugs that infest human craniums and push out large chunks of the brains inside.  It’s not clear what they want yet, apart from an incessant desire to play “You Might Think” by The Cars and even more conflict between the political parties.  Their first act is to scuttle the budget deal that Laurel and Gareth Ritter (Aaron Tveit), legislative assistant to Republican Senator Red Wheatus (Tony Shalhoub), have tried to broker, invading Red’s brain and leading him to wrest control of the Senate from the Democrats.

It’s too soon to tell how–or for that matter if–the Kings will be able to pull off a story that’s equal parts satire, thriller, farce and commentary.  But it’s a pleasure to have their dialogue whizzing around the TV screen again.  Winstead, a solemn presence on The Returned and Mercy Street, and Tveit, a wet noodle on Graceland, crackle in their scenes together here, and the pace is brisk.  (Robert King also served as director of the pilot.)  The genre story will also allow the Kings to blow past any constraints of ordinary plot logic.

The Good Wife, of course, was a show with eternally marginal ratings, and audiences that want their zombies and alien infestation sagas told straight may reject one that plays the genre for laughs and adds a dose of politics.  But BrainDead is the first summer arrival to aim for originality (that goes for the new fall shows, too, if their trailers are accurate), and between that and the craftsmanship of the Kings, it’s definitely worth our attention.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."