“There’s plenty of reasons to be paranoid in this town.”
Despite more options due to the era of Peak TV it still always seems as if the television schedule grows slighter as summer arrives, although that just be a personal thing since my television reviewing schedule tends to has all but vanished (I plan to freshen that this year). Despite this, I’m always on the search for a new, pulpy summer show, perhaps one that doesn’t take itself all too seriously (though I wholeheartedly welcome Mr. Robot efforts.) BrainDead may not come close to capturing the same level of electricity as the USA series did straight out of the gate, but it does show promise.
“In the year 2016 there was a growing sense people were losing their minds” opens CBS’s newest television series, BrainDead starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead-always a plus and usually a reason to at least whatever vehicle she’s starring in and make no doubt, she is easily the most compelling aspect of the first hour. Winstead plays Laurel, arriving for her first day at her new job in D.C. only to realize everything is already in complete disarray.
Robert and Michelle King (creators of The Good Wife) have created a political procedural with horror and comedy elements, not quite straying from the stations more familiar path. Slightly satirizing the current state of politics along with playing up the science fiction “body snatcher” trope with a tagline that reads “…the government has stopped working, and alien spawn have come to earth and eaten the brains of a growing number of Congressmen and Hill staffers.” This both elevates the sense of dread and excitement (especially when relating to real life politics) but also ends up being a slight detriment to the premiere as a whole, despite its initial promise.
It strikes a fast paced and ambitious tone from the first minute, though it quickly gets bogged down by it’s own premise and title, going 17 minutes before the title card drops and the whole time we’re left wondering when something is going to happen. Paranoia is a strong theme throughout, running rampant through the government as people keep secrets and people whisper rather than address the truth. It makes the build up and the first reveal that something truly is amiss all the more thrilling when it finally comes, despite having been waiting for it since the top of the episode.
Impatience isn’t a virtue in television viewing.
Winstead makes the greatest impression, though I’m excited to see what Aaron Tveit does in his role as the slightly smarmy, incredulous republican party member Gareth, and he and Winstead share an easy chemistry. Danny Pino also strikes a stronger impression as Winstead’s brother Luke, a senator. The performances are strong, but can’t carry the show alone, which needs to balance its shades of comedy, horror and procedural notes. When taken in separate parts, they all work, particularly the comedic and body horror elements where we finally learn what happens when those bugs enter the victim’s minds. Together, it’s somewhat incomprehensible, with too much going on at once to truly leave a lasting impression. On top of that, it lacks a visual style, playing it bland and empty rather than playing with the stories heightened, and slightly ridiculous tone which would have made it a more interesting premiere. There is an a level absurdity to this political satire, which the show manages to recognize at moments throughout the first hour, it just needs to sustain that level of energy and the CBS series could be one of the most delightfully ridiculous shows on television this summer.
Luckily, it’s just the premiere, and first episodes are always hard as the series in question are trying to convey everything that the show is going to be about and why we should all be watching. The good news is that if you are in fact a fan of comedy, horror or procedural, there will be something for you in BrainDead. It remains to be seen if it can overcome it’s genre messiness and see if it can capture a larger audience.