The Horror Honeys: There’s an Infestation on Capitol Hill!

There’s an Infestation on Capitol Hill!

A Sci-Fi Honey WEB EXCLUSIVE TV Review by Katie


BrainDead (2016) Mondays 10/9c on CBS
Pilot: The Insanity Principle: How Extremism in Politics is Threatening Democracy in the 21st Century

If you’ve been watching the news even peripherally lately, you know things have gone incredibly haywire with modern politics; from the Trump v. Clinton sideshow in America to the Brexit upset abroad, legislators and constituents on all sides of the sociopolitical spectrum are getting outrageously heated and further deepening the bipartisan divide. But what if there was a peculiar reason for all the media hullabaloo surrounding candidates’ brash statements and inexplicable campaign strategies? What if something besides the lust for money and power was infecting the political minds of the people…?

Like space bugs, naturally.

For Robert and Michelle King, co-creators of the new CBS political sci-fi series BrainDead, that infection comes in the form of alien insects from another planet. Arriving via a meteorite that crash-lands in Russian waters, the space bugs are transported across the globe to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., where blooming cherry blossoms make a hospitable new home for the ant-like creatures. Marching in formation through air ducts and open windows, the bugs crawl into the ear canal of unsuspecting human victims, causing them to lose their minds – quite literally and graphically, oozing out of the opposite ear – and wake up with an entirely new, fervently conformist and politically-charged mentality. The pilot episode posits a House of Cards-meets-Men in Black scenario, depicting both the reality behind closed-door political strategizing and the outlandish intrigue of an otherworldly sci-fi fable.

Hottest exterminator ever.
Holding this wacky premise together is a solid lead performance by Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Laurel Healy, a documentary filmmaker-turned-assistant to her big brother, Democratic Senator Luke Healy (SVU’s Danny Pino). Transplanted back to D.C. in order to fund her next project, Laurel uses her natural instincts as a documentarian to investigate the sudden change in personalities happening all around her. Winstead’s sibling rapport with Pino achieves a believable balance between familial affection and an annoyed exasperation, and the pilot often finds ways to showcase her charming comedic appeal. Rounding out the cast is Tony Shalhoub as a recently ‘brain-dead’ rival Republican senator and Aaron Tveit – an obvious but still cute love interest for Winstead – as his calculating assistant.

Pictured: how politics work.
Just as Don Siegel’s 1956 adaptation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a veiled criticism of McCarthy-era politics, BrainDead appears to be using science fiction as a lens through which to view our current political climate; indeed, a reference to Seigel’s film is made explicit when one character confesses, “my husband is no longer my husband.” Though the pilot episode is frequently bizarre, featuring gross-out moments and a recurring musical motif set to The Cars’ 1984 hit single “You Might Think," the show’s timely political commentary and a solid performance by winsome Winstead is just compelling enough to keep you glued to the screen. Whether or not BrainDead’s zany premise and mashup of genres can sustain a whole season, let alone an entire series, remains to be seen – but in the meantime, the pilot episode will put a bug in your ear to tune in for some more. 

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Four political alien brain-bugs out of five

You can catch the pilot of BrainDead, and all the most recent episodes, on CBS All Access, Amazon, & On Demand!

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