Braindead review

BrainDead Review: Good Wife Creators' D.C. Satire Will Make Your Head Ache

grade_C-Here’s something troubling about BrainDead, CBS’ new political dramedy from The Good Wife creators Robert and Michelle King: After watching three hour-long episodes, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be upset in the slightest if any of the central characters fell victim to the alien bugs feasting on the brains of Washington, D.C., power players and turning ’em all into deeply uncompromising, rabidly partisan monsters.

The at-arms-length feelings BrainDead inspires spring largely from its deeply uneven tone. As a comedy, its punchlines land with the wobbliness of an amateur gymnast flopping off the uneven bars. As a thriller, its stakes barely reach the level of a 30-second ad for Raid insecticide. And as a critique of modern American politics, BrainDead (premiering Monday, June 13, at 10/9c) is a little too pleased with itself, considering said critique never really digs deeper than “Washington’s lost its mind!” (Did I mention each installment comes with its own groan-inducing title, such as Episode 2’s “Playing Politics: Living Life in the Shadow of the Budget Showdown — a Critique”? I know, I know… that shouldn’t really factor into my review, but it’s indicative of the kind of twee thinking that plagues the series.)

The murkiness of BrainDead is as surprising as it is disappointing, given the Kings’ deft work of infusing the scorching drama of The Good Wife (which, at its peak, was the greatest network drama of the last two decades) with an undercurrent of delectably wry humor.

BrainDead is perhaps even more ambitious than its Emmy-nominated predecessor, but it also doubles-down on the schlockiest aspects (Eli’s tiny office, the glib mockery of Iowa campaign traditions) of The Good Wife‘s uneven last two seasons.

braindead aaron tveitThe story follows Laurel (Mercy Street‘s Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a struggling documentary filmmaker lured by her powerful dad (The Good Wife‘s Zach Grenier) to spend six months working for her U.S. Senator brother Luke (Law & Order: SVU‘s Danny Pino). As footage of Bernie, Hillary and The Donald unspools in the background and the war between fictional Republicans and Democrats leads to a government shutdown, Laurel’s investigation of an incident involving the sudden personality change of a constituent’s husband (and his encounter on a cargo ship containing a mysterious crate from Russia) puts her on personal orange alert. By the time a scientist’s head explodes in her face — and way too many folks around her start putting The Cars’ 1984 smash “You Might Think” into heavy rotation — Laurel finds herself meeting on the regular with loopy conspiracy-theorist scientist Gustav (Underground’s Johnny Ray Gill), flirting with a Republican rival (Graceland and Grease: Live‘s crazily charismatic Aaron Tveit) and getting questioned by a verrry handsome FBI agent (Mercy’s Charlie Semine) whose interest in her seems to extend beyond “CHIs (Catastrophic Head Injuries).”

Did I mention Monk‘s Tony Shalhoub walks around with a Washington-monument-sized piece of scenery in his mouth as a Republican power player whose brains have been turned to mush by the alien bugs — and who now wants to create a conservative grassroots movement called “The One-Wayers”? (The alien presence, it appears, seeks to destroy humanity through political gridlock.) Or that Laurel’s job involves face-to-face meetings with hayseeds and weirdos who’ve (among other things) created chocolate canine sculptures for no apparent reason? (Surely, there are sharper ways to underscore the absurdities of these United States?) Or that Gustav requires Laurel to slip her cellphone into a foil envelope every time they’re together?

Don’t get me wrong: BrainDead manages to be intermittently intriguing just through the sheer strangeness of its premise — not to mention the sparkling chemistry Winstead exhibits both with Tveit and Semine. And in a different series, Pino’s cheerful, adulterous, win-at-all-costs politico could’ve been downright fascinating.

Ultimately, though, like the inside-the-beltway white matter that gets consumed by those little alien critters and winds up turning to pink goo, BrainDead goes splat under the weight of its outsized aspirations.

The TVLine Bottom Line: Neither as funny or as scary as the actual 2016 presidential race, we’d be surprised if CBS doesn’t pull the plug on the unique but ultimately unrewarding BrainDead before summer is over.

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29 Comments
  1. TW says:

    Well, that sounds awful.

  2. MissEllys says:

    This sounds really fun. And it makes perfect sense for Gustav to have her put her phone in a foil envelope. I learned all about that on COLONY when they wrapped up the alien’s body in a makeshift Faraday cage (an emergency mylar foil blanket) so its transmissions couldn’t get out.

  3. Bwhit says:

    To me, it sounds like the perfect show for summer lol. I’ll watch no matter what because of Aaron Tveit.

  4. Matthew Halverson says:

    I’ll still check it out, because I’ve been looking forward to that one, but based on this review, it doesn’t sound promising.

  5. Marco says:

    Well… I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. Let’s hope this is another Lucifer; it got a similar review and it was really damn enjoyable.

  6. modwildtv says:

    I haven’t watched the other two episodes yet, but the pilot was a lot of fun. It’s kitschy, which is exactly what I want in my summer fare. And Robert King even said while promoting it he wants people to have fun while watching it, that’s more important to him than anything. I’ll be reviewing it and having a good time doing it.

  7. ScottJ says:

    I might like the show more if it hadn’t stolen its title (and part of the concept…) from a totally unrelated movie and stage show.

    • N8frogg78 says:

      If the name of the show really has any effect on whether or not you like a show you have issues. Seriously what does the title have to do with if a show is good or not?

  8. Eurydice says:

    Well, the political storylines were always the weakest part of TGW, so this isn’t unexpected.

  9. JoyAnne says:

    I’ve been hoping to see Tony Shalhoub in a decent show for such a long time. Loved him as Monk. Have the whole set of DVD’s. Here’s hoping this show let him show his talent. Doesn’t sound great but will try it to see.

  10. IRON WILL says:

    As soon as I heard “political satire” during a campaign year I KNEW it was going to take a swipe at the right with all this “government shutdown” in the storyline.

    Doubt this show will do too much to bash robo-Hillary and will be a heavy-dose of unfunny propaganda…

  11. Jared says:

    The promos looked so bad for this show it actually made me lose interest in watching. I think I can skip this one judging by TVLines review(which are usually spot on).

  12. c-mo says:

    Wow, shocking that a TV show is making only Republicans the politicians who are taken over by the brain eating alien bugs. I guess Richard Castle was right when he said: “the more intelligent the person, the more tasty the brain”.

    • David4 says:

      Trump.

      Everyone who voted for him is a racist or an idiot. But I’m going with both.

      • tvjunkie says:

        Actually you’re the one sounding like a racist. Let’s see who the choices are on the other other side. A geriatric who wants you to just have your pay check paid directly to the government and let the government decide how much everyone should get or a woman (I use the term loosely) who has committed felonies and heads a corrupt foundation that takes bribe money from, among other places, countries that view women as worth less than dirt. Trump may not be a good choice, but the choices on the other side are worse.

        • Meagan says:

          Actually women are treated worse than dirt. You can’t rape, mutilate, torture, forcibly impregnate, stone to death, or behead dirt.

  13. It looks dumb, in my opinion.

  14. suzi says:

    I’ll watch, and then decide if I like it.

  15. David4 says:

    It sounds as awful as I expect and I can’t wait for it!

    It’s like Independence Day 2. Completely not needed and looks incredibly dumb in every way, but I’ll be damned if I’m not the one screaming in joy while watching it.

  16. Ms thang says:

    Will watch it. The negative review got me curious even more!

  17. mike says:

    I’ll check it out cause I love me some mary Elizabeth.

  18. Rosanne says:

    “we’d be surprised if CBS doesn’t pull the plug on the unique but ultimately unrewarding BrainDead before summer is over.”
    And yet, Under The Dome (under the dumb) ran for 3 seasons.

  19. I have promo fatigue from this. CBS was really trying to push this and it annoyed me. the concept is interesting but if you want political satire in this day and age, go with Armando Iannucci.

  20. This sounds like its going to be outrageously campy fun. I think Mr. Slezak really liked The Good Wife, and expected more than a summer popcorn series here. For me, I never found The Good Wife to be more than The Fair to Middling Wife. To each his own.

  21. liame says:

    I was hooked because of the trailers. I’m still going to check it out because I like weird humor, I always find myself shaking my head with hands raised slightly, laughing and saying “what?” whenever my besties tell jokes.

  22. Was so looking forward to seeing Tony Shalhoub in another series, but having now watched two episodes I will remove the show from my DVR. Really like the satire aspect, but can’t handle exploding heads and bugs crawling towards unsuspecting victims. Thought a new series by the creators of the Good Wife would be worth watching…don’t waste your time!

  23. Sean says:

    Such a boring show. What a drop off from the Good Wife.