First impressions: BrainDead

(image courtesy CBS)
(image courtesy CBS)

 

Well this explains everything.

Why is the world spinning to ever greater political extremes from Brexit in UK to Trump in the USA and Australia’s federal government uncertainty?

Bugs. Alien bugs. Eating the brains of those who would govern us.

BrainDead, from Michelle and Robert King (The Good Wife), uses a wacky premise to make a salient, well-presented point – that the only explanation for all the political insanity gripping the world right now is the existence of brain-chomping alien bugs, devouring all the intelligence and common sense of those in whom we place our democratic trust.

Granted, the odds of that actually being the case are fairly remote, but dammit, it’s better than the real world alternative, and as good an explanation as any.

And it turns out, it’s incredibly entertaining, at turns hilarious and silly – all the infected people show a predilection for one song and one song only “You Might Think” by The Cars and eschew alcohol and hard living – and creepy scary – watching people who know what the bugs can do getting infected against their will is deeply unnerving – and downright serious, with some fairly salient points about political dysfunction being made over the course of each made.

Thus BrainDead  is a tonal and thematic juggling act that, contrary to expectations actually manage all its disparate plates in the air.

Well most of the time at least.

There are times when it all gets a little too silly and over the top or the bugs, which let’s face look like ants, are so much terrifying as just plain infestationally annoying.

Yes, they can’t be killed by bug spray but they come and go as the narrative demands, and while their ability to strip away a person’s true identity is Borg-level-scary, there’s no real sense at this point of mounting peril.

(Although the scene where one of Laurel’s good left-leaning college friends, Stacie (Nikiya Mathis), is trapped in the bathroom about to have her brain eaten away by the bugs that have already transformed her other friend Abby (Brooke Bloom) is pretty scary in a Doctor Who alien threat kind of way)

But, and this is important, BrainDead is doing a nice job of slowly ramping up the gathering bug storm as central character Laurel (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a documentary maker from a Democrat Party dynasty who takes a job with her Senator brother Luke (Danny Pino) begins to suspect that something may not be right in her till-then spurned hometown of Washington D.C.

I mean, less right than normal in a town not exactly known for functionality, harmony and happy discourse.

 

 

She is not alone in her growing suspicions.

Gustav (Johnny Ray Gill) has watched in horror as one of his chess-playing buddies from the park, infected by the meteor-borne bugs who to date have shown a predilection for members of Congress and their staff (including Luke’s aide and lover Scarlett (Paige Patterson).

So far no one has quite out two and two together and got an insectoid fourbut it’s coming and when it does we may have an actual paranoid alien thriller with goofy overtones on our hands.

As it stands at the moment, the horror of people literally losing their minds is being balanced by some fierce political satire as the alien bugs, who show a fondness for extreme political positions, a love of the free market – one of the infected Republican Senators Red Wheatus (Tony Shalhoub) wants to abolish things like the education and energy departments) and wheat grass/beetroot shakes, drive the already tense political atmosphere in Washington DC to near breaking point.

The government is in gridlock and as more and more people fall victim to the bugs, which thankfully do show up on MRI scans so if you can tell the infected from those who are just shitty flawed human beings, it’s becoming increasingly so.

While BrainDead does show a slightly liberal bent, it is more focused on the intransigence and lack of flexibility in the current season and whether people like Laurel, who wonders if she’s hard-edged enough for politics, and Wheatus’s aide and potential Laurelian love interest, Gareth Ritter (Aaron Tveit) can actually make a difference, bugs or no bugs.

In other words, take the bugs away, and is the system still so broke no one can fix it? It’s a question that gets asked again and again, its insistent drumbeat through each episode amplified rather than created by the presence of the extremist-leaning bugs.

It’s easy to get disillusioned but with people like Laurel and Gustav on the job, there may still be hope, bugs permitting.

BrainDead’s greatest challenge no doubt will lie with how well its balanced out its constituent elements.

Deftly handled, and so far they have been for the most part – the balance is out here and there but that’s true of many shows finding their storytelling feet in the first season – BrainDead could be something truly unique, a show that mixes satire, goofy humour, dread and observational critiques in one compelling package.

It’s not quite there yet but the signs are promising.

 

Posted In TV

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