Hailing from Robert and Michelle King, the husband-and-wife creative team behind The Good Wife, BrainDead is set in present-day Washington, D.C. and follows governmental figures on both sides of the aisle as they navigate the tricky world of politics. Oh, and they’re also dealing with an infestation of brain-eating alien bugs. If there’s anything more bizarre than real-life politics in this election year, it’s CBS’ new political satire BrainDead.
“Ninety-nine people out of 100 that I [describe the show] to pause for a moment and then they say, ‘Oh, like real life,'” star Aaron Tveit (Graceland) tells TVGuide.com. “I keep telling everyone it’s The West Wing meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s just very fitting for right now.”
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Indeed, woven in with the fictional plotlines is actual news footage of political figures, particularly presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And, truth be told, the real-life sound bites don’t sound that much more far-fetched than the dialogue from the infected characters. But BrainDead is adopting an equal opportunity approach to its satire.
“[The show] is not really making a statement against Democrats or Republicans,” Tveit, who plays Republican legislative director Gareth Ritter, says. “If there’s any statement, it’s against extremism on both sides.”
In addition to Tveit, BrainDead stars Tony Shalhoub as Republican Senator Red Wheatus and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Laurel Healy, a documentary filmmaker from a political family who returns to the Beltway to work for her brother, Democratic Majority Whip Luke Healy (Danny Pino).
A D.C. outsider, it’s Laurel who first starts noticing when things seem a little… shall we say, off with the people in and around government. Telltale signs include adopting extremist views, giving up alcohol, and embarking on a juice cleanse. And sometimes people’s heads explode at random.
“In a lot of ways, that makes more sense than what is actually occurring in Washington today,” Pino tells TVGuide.com. “With the presidential campaign the way it is and how it’s been reported and how it’s been run… it’s almost as if… They’ve read our scripts before we’ve actually shot them.”
Tonally, BrainDead embraces its just-go-with-it premise and runs with it. The show is being characterized as a “comic-thriller,” and there’s truly nothing like it on any other primetime network show. Episode titles include the ridiculously lengthy, “The Insanity Principle: How Extremism in Politics is Threatening Democracy in the 21st Century.” The bugs’ call to arms is The Cars’ “You Might Think,” a song that’s played repeatedly to great comedic effect.
And yeah, there’s plenty of scenes with bugs crawling in ears and, in one case a brain being squeezed out through an ear, that will make squeamish viewers dive into the nearest couch pillow. Yet somehow, it all works.
It’s unclear how long BrainDead will be able to keep up its goofy premise, which sounds more suited to a movie than a TV series. The Kings have talked about having a four-year plan for the show, which has thus far only been picked up for one 13-episode summer run by CBS. But regardless of how long the show lasts, they’ll have plenty of real-life political fodder to turn to for inspiration.
BrainDead premieres Monday at 10/9c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)