TV Review: 'BrainDead' The (Liberal) Insanity Principle

June 14th, 2016 9:31 AM

CBS’s new dramedy BrainDead is a lefty political version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Set in DC with a government shutdown looming, alien ants from a meteor that crashed in Russia enter the ears of humans, push their brains out, and give them a different personality. The pilot episode is titled “The Insanity Principle: How Extremism In Politics Is Threatening Democracy In The 21st Century.”

LA filmmaker Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is in DC for a political event for her brother, Luke Healy (Danny Pino), the Democratic Senate Majority Whip. Laurel just lost funding for her new documentary on Melanesian choirs. “Why don't you do something people want to see, like gun control? I can get you an NEA grant tomorrow,” he says to her. (Hmm, is that how Katie Couric did it?) Laurel’s father wants her to work for her brother, an offer she begrudgingly accepts when he promises to help fund her documentary after 6 months.

Laurel’s new role in Luke’s office is constituent caseworker. She meets a man who has made a chocolate dog for the senator, a woman whose husband opened a mysterious box that contained the alien meteor on a container ship and came back a different person (more on that later), and experiences what it’s like having to deal with the Social Security Administration - a whole lot of being on hold and transferred. 

Laurel is brought a deal from Republican Senator Red Wheatus’s (Monk’s Tony Shalhoub) office offering to cross the aisle and vote with Democrats to stop the government shutdown in exchange for a $48 million earmark for autism studies. 

Luke (who is cheating on his 8 months pregnant wife with a staffer) and the Democrats have a conference call to discuss the offer, but they’d rather score political points by blaming Republicans for a shutdown than resolve the issue peacefully. 

Luke: Senators, gentlemen, wait. Do we make the deal? That's all we need to answer, and we only have... 

Laurel: Nine minutes to decide.

Man: Look, the Republicans are scared. I say we use this to embarrass them.

Laurel: No, no, he said if you did that, he would deny it. 

Man: Who’s "He"? And who is talking? 

Luke: It’s my sister.

Spitz: I say we take the deal. All Red wants is $48 million in earmarks.

Luke: Or we collect on their media hit, then make the deal. Let the Republicans shut down the government. It's bad for them, bad for their presidential candidate. Why would we get in the way of them shooting themselves in the foot? 

Laurel: Because it's 100,000 people out of work… They're gonna let it close. 

Scarlett: It’s the smart move. 

Laurel: God, I hate politics. 

Scarlett: I’m a child of divorce. This isn't serious with your brother. It's just... Blowing off steam. 

Laurel: Okay.

Luke: Okay. So we're gonna let the deadline pass. 

Laurel: Luke, this is wrong. It's just $48 million. 

Luke: Yes, and we're looking to the long game. It's about who'll be the next president, who'll choose the next Supreme Court justice. 

Time expires and the government is shut down. Scientists at the Smithsonian have just opened the box containing the meteor and are beginning to examine it when the lights are shut off and security comes in to kick them out. The box is left open and the alien bugs are released into DC.

Creators Robert and Michelle King said they got the idea for the show from the craziness of the 2013 government shutdown and you can tell they bought Obama’s argument back then hook, line and sinker. Republicans are demonized in general or blamed for the government shutdown 9 times. There is repeated talk of 100,000 people losing their jobs - “People are going hungry over this, people can't pay their rent.” In reality, any pain that was felt was purposefully inflicted by Obama for political reasons. However, there is a hint of truth buried in the script. While the implication is that the government shutdown caused the alien ants to escape, the security guard clearing the room comes in telling people, “We've had meeting after meeting about this day. You were supposed to be prepared already. This is ridiculous.” The truth is that government shutdown contingencies are planned well in advance and the scientists should have already had the box secured and put away.

Now that the ants are in town, the man whose wife came to Laurel about his strange behavior after contact with the meteor holds her down so they will enter her brain as well. Along with ants in his head, he also appears to suffer from Republican Derangement Syndrome. “Did you see what the Republicans said?” he asks her. “They're insane. What is this world coming to?” When the wife’s transformation is complete, the “happy” couple goes to Luke’s office to thank Laurel and they decide to donate to his campaign, saying, “Anything to stop those Republicans from ruining our country.”

Luke finally decides to sit down with Senator Wheatus to negotiate and Laurel is left talking to his staffer, Gareth, where they get into a debate about the meaning of liberalism. Laurel pretty much demonstrates the textbook definition of being a liberal by calling Gareth a bigot out of the blue and stuttering about global warming. 

Gareth: Why Melanesian choirs? 

Laurel: You don't want to know. 

Gareth: Yeah, I do. I'm right here. 

Laurel: Okay, well, they're disappearing. Kids in the Solomon Islands all want to listen to Taylor Swift. 

Gareth: So you're an idealist? 

Laurel: No. I just don't like it when things disappear. 

Gareth: That’s a very Republican thing to say. Liberals love when things disappear. 

Laurel: They do not. 

Gareth: No, that's actually the definition of being a liberal. 

Laurel: Oh, my God, what a bigot!… So, their culture is disappearing because of global warming. So tell me-- what-what do Republicans think about that?

Senator Wheatus is the first politician to be lobotomized by the alien ants. Overnight he goes from being a lazy drunk who is ready to make a deal with the Democrats to a sober, shrewd negotiator who convinces a Democrat Senator to switch parties, thus giving Republicans control of the Senate. He says, “But what is a Democrat these days? What is a Republican? A brand. You ate Cheerios this morning, you'll eat Wheat Chex tomorrow.” Not really seeing any consistency with the other ant man who rails against the GOP here, so it will be interesting to see where all this is going.

TVs are ubiquitous throughout the show, always on in the background showing 2016 presidential candidate speeches or talk of the impending government shutdown on either a Rachel Maddow-type news show (if it’s a Democrat office) or a Fox News blonde (if it’s a Republican). In a scene where Republicans are taking over the Senate Majority Whip Office, the shift is marked by a channel change from the Maddow lookalike bemoaning the fact that “in a stunning betrayal of his caucus, Senator Spitz of Maine crossed the aisle today, handing the reins of power to the Republicans…” to the perky Fox News blonde saying, “In a bold and historic move by the Republicans, the Senate changed hands today. Democrats were left gasping…”

The presidential candidates themselves play a role as background characters on BrainDead. Clips from interviews and speeches are played throughout. The opening seconds of the premiere shows a wall of TVs playing Trump, Hillary, and Bernie speeches, along with a Russian newscast showing the meteor crash, with the words, “In the year 2016 there was a growing sense that people were losing their minds…and no one knew why…until now.”

This presidential election year has been so insanely crazy that, honestly, aliens taking over people’s brains seems like as good an explanation as any.