Classic Review: Braindead Season 1 (2016)

Since I’ve started this site, I’ve written a lot of reviews. If you didn’t already know, I also write TV reviews. In case you missed some of my earlier ones, I would like to share my first TV review which was for the first (and probably only) season of the underappreciated dramedy Braindead which originally appeared here.

Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) knows the U.S. governmental system has its issues, but when she starts her first job on Capitol Hill, she quickly learns things are much further gone than she realized. Washington D.C. has been invaded by alien bugs that have come to Earth and are dining on the the brains of a growing number of Congressmen and staffers, bringing operations to a standstill, and it’s up to her to figure out what exactly is going on and stop it. Among those helping Laurel are Rochelle Daudier (Nikki M. James), a medical resident who lost her father to a mysterious infection, an eccentric scientist named Gustav (Johnny Ray Gill), and Gareth (Aaron Tveit), a smart and hard-working Legislative Director for a crazy Republican senator named Red Wheatus (Tony Shalhoub) .

My first TV show review. This one is off the entire season of Braindead but I am also looking to write single episode reviews of other shows but that will depend on how much time I have. That is why I am looking for some TV writers for the site. You can find information about this here. Now onto the show!

Now a show about the U.S. government isn’t that impressive but once brain-eating alien bugs are thrown in, things become a little more interesting. It’s definitely not something one would expect from the creators of The Good Wife (an apparently good show that I haven’t watched), Robert and Michelle King. The show still had my interest, if only to see where all of it went and also because of the cast they assembled here in Winstead, Danny Pino as Laurel’s brother Luke, Tveit, and Shalhoub.

The American (I’m not American BTW) government is a crazy place nowadays if this current election is any indication. Politicians are fighting amongst each other and they must always face the cloud of corruption. We may not know why this is the case but this show attempts to explain this by making a connection with the aforementioned brain-eating alien bugs, coming from a mysterious meteor crashing on earth. Somehow, they eventually make it to Washington D.C.. The timing of this is a little unclear.

Laurel Healy is a down on her luck documentary filmmaker. She needs money to finish her latest project but her luck changes when she is offered a job by her father Dean (Zach Grenier) in her senator brother Luke’s office as a constituency caseworker. This is where she is first introduced to this problem when she meets a woman named Rochelle Dodier, a doctor who lost her father to a mysterious condition which we now know is from the bugs who cause some of their hosts’ heads to explode (it’s a network show so this can only go so far). Early on, they meet an eccentric scientist named Gustav who starts an investigation of his own after losing a friend thanks to the same condition and is now obsessed with finding the truth.

His obsession kind of rubs off onto Laurel but Rochelle still remains skeptical, being a medical doctor. These different viewpoints meshed well together and the chemistry between the three made their scenes fun to watch. Watching them over the course of their investigation was great. Here they got to uncover how far the bugs reached and as the episodes rolled on, we learned that they were able to reach politicians, staffers, and various others. These affected people would often act strangely, some more than others. Their behaviors were different, they were deaf in one ear, and for some reason, would religiously listen to “You Might Think” by The Cars. Some of them would also travel in packs, seemingly always near the three thus reinforcing the show’s whole conspiracy aspect. This allowed the opportunity for a lot of dark humor as the three had to live with and figure out how to deal with these bug people. Watching bug people and the various interactions between the three and the bug people provided many funny moments.

While all of this was happening, Luke was a being a democratic senator. He wasn’t exactly the most upstanding politician but he meant well. He would constantly have affairs with several different women while his wife was pregnant. This fact didn’t play too much of a role but spoke to his character. Throughout his time in the Senate, he had to face fellow democrats and also republicans along with their leader, senator Red Wheatus. In terms of the bug situation, Luke had no idea what was going on so to him, this was just politics but little did he know, the infected politicians and their leader, also Wheatus, were working together to distract people from their real intentions.

From trying to start a war with Syria (how topical), to trying to prop up extreme left and right wing groups against each other, to endless debates, they tried hard to keep the focus away from what they were doing. This wasn’t exactly difficult considering the current political climate, which echoed today’s climate. These moments served as great political satire as the bugs emphasized the divide between Democrats and Republicans and the lengths they would go to preserve their respective beliefs and ideals but at the end of the day, the infected politicians still found a way to compromise for the sake of the bug agenda.

It was evident that Luke and Laurel cared for one another but this relationship sometimes took a backseat to Luke’s Senate duties. This was due to them spending a considerable time apart because of Laurel’s work so some time was devoted to them trying to rekindle their relationship. This was helped by their father who brought them back together. Luke and Laurel cared about their father as well despite their family’s tumultuous history. A later subplot, a few episodes from the end, involving their father brought their family’s past history to light. This started to bring some of the subplots together but was also the only real low point of the season as the tone changed a little too drastically during these moments as the focus tended to shift too much away from the bugs and onto their family dynamic. Because of this, we didn’t get to see Rochelle and Gustav for a few episodes which took some fun out of things. Despite that, they were also fun to watch together because of their chemistry.

One last main character was Wheatus’ Legislative Director named Gareth. Based on the mostly confrontational relationship between Wheatus and Luke, Laurel and Gareth became very close. They started off as mostly acquaintances, trying to take advantage of each other for political reasons but over time, became more than friends. This was less of a matter of if and more of a matter of when. What was interesting about their relationship was the fact that she was a Democrat and he a Republican. This caused an inner conflict within Gareth since being with Laurel was against his better judgement since they did not share the same beliefs on just about everything.

The show had fun with this fact, leading to some fun exchanges between the two. The highlight of this has to be an episode where Wheatus called for a private investigator to look into the Healys which brought up an incident with Michael Moore (I’ve said too much already). Despite his better judgement, Gareth was a great ally to Laurel, either in helping her help Luke in his various battles against Wheatus. In terms of the bug situation, he was mostly in the dark since Laurel never told him because she did not want to sound crazy. Laurel and Gareth were fun to watch throughout the show as well because of their chemistry.

Gareth and Wheatus were fun to watch together as Gareth was mostly the “straight” man, trying to balance out the over the top Wheatus. He was a pretty crazy character, mostly due to the alien bug in his head. He was a caricature of a prototypical old guard Republican politician. He could of stayed on that level the whole time which would have made him come off as annoying after a little while but they luckily gave him more to do, being the ringleader of the bug movement. Seeing him do shady stuff or just be up to no good was fun to watch even though we didn’t always know what it all would lead to.

The best part of the show has to be the musical recaps before every episode. Yes, a show about brain-eating alien bugs has musical recaps before each episode. Once you hear them, it’s hard to imagine any show starting differently. This was definitely a very fresh, creative way to liven up what are normally pretty boring recaps. These were fun to watch and listen to and were hilarious. Feel free to watch them below but there will obviously be spoilers.

The acting here was excellent all around as everyone was likable, especially Winstead’s Laurel. The fact that she was in Washington despite the fact she hated politics made her a relatable character. This made her very compelling to watch, going from the bug saga, to dealing with her family trouble, to dealing with her own life. Pino as Luke was good as well and likable. Tveit as Gareth was charming and played well of of Winstead’s Laurel as their characters bonded. Shalhoub could have toned it down a little but he was still tremendous here as Wheatus as this character had the most range, effortlessly going from restrained, calculated craziness to full on craziness. James and Gill were awesome as Rochelle and Gustav. Their banter made a lot of the scenes.

It’s a shame that the show hasn’t gotten the ratings it probably deserved but the fact that it is a Summer show and that it is on CBS probably doesn’t help. This leaves a second season in doubt which is definitely a shame since the end allows the possibility for an interesting second season.

Overall, the show starts off slowly as it establishes its storyline and characters but once it finally gets going, it becomes a smart and funny political satire led by strong writing and performances.

Score: 9/10

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