I am a passionate consumer of television – and one of my many ambitions is to one day write a tv series that actually gets made rather than sitting on my computer – but I don’t often find shows that I feel like reviewing on here. Admittedly, this is partially because I tend to bulk watch shows years after they’ve aired (and half the time it’s trashy goodness like Dance Moms or Project Catwalk) but it’s also because there aren’t many shows that make my brain burst with the need to share them with others. I have, however, found one show that I am compelled to share: BrainDead.
BrainDead is a politically satirical, sci-fi comedy drama (with the slightest hints of unconventional romance) created by Robert and Michelle King about braineating parasites invading Washington DC during the run-up to the last election. Laurel Healy, a documentary film-maker, hates all the political schmoozing that her senator brother, Luke, gets up to but is forced to work for him when her funding dries up. All she wants to do is tolerate the people around her and avoid her father while she works up the money for her passion project, a documentary about the relatively unknown religious music in the Solomon Islands, but that doesn’t work out for her when she discovers that the capital has been invaded by brain eating space-bugs but no one else seems to notice.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Laurel Healy could be any character from any current tv show and that is what makes her so brilliant in BrianDead. In a show where everything is exaggerated – whether through their paranoia about the strange illness hitting the city, the political turmoil of the election, or because of the extremist nature of the space-bug parasites – Laurel is normal. Weirded out by other people and frustrated by the failings of the political system around her, but normal. And it works so well! Some ridiculous things happen in BrainDead, from exploding heads to senators who can’t stop crying, but Laurel rides through it all reasonable straight faced. She does have her moments, and certainly has some dry humour of her own, but most of the laughs come from from the craziness that happens around her. All through the series, she tries very hard to be logical and come up with solutions rather than panicking and it just has hilarious consequences.
The bad guys of BrainDead are obviously the space-bugs because, you know, the whole invading people’s brains and world domination plan thing. For a comedy show, they are incredibly creepy to watch – they crawl in packs through whatever space they can to get to their victim’s ear and then, once inside, out pops part of said person’s brain. Plus points: they’re apparently a great cure for Parkinson’s and definitely make people more politically engaged. The way to prevent being infested would certainly appeal to some people too. Negative points: they make people more politically engaged with the hope that humans will all destroy each other and can make their victim’s brains explode if they’re forced to think too hard. Gruesome. Their existence also would explain a hell of a lot about the last election
which is perhaps why it got cancelled after one season.
Plot-wise, BrainDead is simply batshit. It mashes so many tropes of television genres together and then rips the piss out of them which, for me, makes it all the more hilarious. And, most importantly, many of the characters do have a development arc and are not the same at the end as they were at the beginning. Admittedly some of them have had their heads exploded but all’s fair in love and world domination, right? And I loved the fact that I couldn’t guess what was going to happen from episode to episode! Some of this may have been down to my lack of understanding of US politics – something I understand a lot better after this show! – but mostly I feel that it was just plotted well enough to keep you guessing. There are predictable moments within episodes but the twists across the series definitely keep you going.
My favourite part about BrainDead was, however, the musical recaps at the beginning of each show. Written and preformed by Jonathan Coulton, these recaps are laugh-out-loud in their own right. He’s just so witty with it! They are written just the way that I would probably tell my friends about an episode and then set to music. It’s glorious – I hope he brings out an album just of BrainDead recaps.
Overall, do I think CBS should have cancelled BrainDead? No, I think they were possessed by space-bugs which were then vanquished. Not many shows can make me excited to watch brains explode or learn about politics, but BrainDead is so funny, intelligent, and incredibly current, that I would be happy to watch it over and over. Everyone should watch it – otherwise I might be forced to suspect that they have been infected.