I was lukewarm on the pilot of the new CBS drama, BrainDead from Robert and Michelle King, the creators behind The Good Wife. I conceded in my review that I would only be sticking with it out of loyalty to our collective crush on Mary Elizabeth Winstead and not because of the ham-fisted metaphor comparing zombies and politicians.
It’s a good thing I did, because that’s not actually what’s going on in BrainDead. Yes, politicians and other Capitol Hill folk are being inhabited by alien meteor bugs that take over their brain functions, and yes, those bugs are turning them into soulless bureaucrats. However, the unexpected twist here is that the bugs are making them even more shrewd and calculated, and therefore, even better at their jobs.
Despite inhabiting a world where Donald Trump has turned politics into self-parody, the political maneuvering in BrainDead is still fairly enjoyable to watch, too. As Laurel Healy, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character is an aide to her brother, Luke Healy, the whip for the Senate, whose party has recently been demoted to minority status. She has been charged with outflanking members of the Republican party (led by Tony Shalhoub’s Republican Senator Raymond “Red” Wheatus) and those within Luke’s own party, where he’s trying to hold on to his seat as whip and make the Democrats the majority party again (Trump, meanwhile, has been mentioned on several occasions — all unfavorably — and provides something of a backdrop to the moves within Congress). There’s also some surprisingly fun chemistry between Laurel Healy the Chief of Staff for Wheatus, Aaron Tveit’s Gareth Ritter, who is trying to straddle the line between love interest and political enemy. They play each other, and then they play with each other, if you know what I mean.
What provides the show with its zany absurdist streak, however, are the head explosions. Yes, head explosions. Sometimes, the brains of those who are infected by the alien bugs reject the parasites, and their heads explode. Laurel Healy is trying to uncover the cause of these head explosions — which are played more for laughs than horror — and get to the bottom of a potential conspiracy. Also, the bugs are weirdly attracted to the Cars’ song, “You Might Think,” which provides another layer of infectious silliness.
After three episodes, BrainDead is finding its feet, and it’s managed to duplicate much of the lightweight comedy and political maneuverings of The Good Wife without completely sacrificing story. It’s not prestige drama by any stretch, but as summer offerings go, like the The Good Wife during its heyday, it may be the best show on network television at the moment.