Wednesday, June 29, 2016

BRAINDEAD -- My sort of review

If I went into CBS and pitched a political series set in Washington D.C. where ants from outer space get into people’s heads through their ears and turn them into zombies/radicals/health nuts/Scientologists/Stepford Wives and the tone is satirical but with sci-fi overtones with thriller aspects they’d probably call security. They’d think, “Yep, this is what happens when writers are over forty. Such a shame. He once wrote CHEERS.”


But if you’re Robert and Michelle King and you were the creative force behind THE GOOD WIFE (my vote for the best network drama series in the last fifteen years), not only do they not throw you out, they give you a series order.

I’m not usually a fan of shows about ants (Yes, I know I’m in the minority), but in deference to the Kings, who I greatly admire, I’ve been watching their new summer show, BRAINDEAD.

I’ve seen all three aired episodes, and I can honestly say – I have no idea whether or not I like this show. And it’s not the ants. They’re fine. A few overact but generally they give a yeoman’s performance.  (I can’t believe that RAID doesn’t sponsor this show. Or Bose headphones.) And I get that the political arena is hot right now. Every show set in Washington that doesn’t star Katherine Heigl seems to be a hit. But BRAINDEAD mixes genres in a bizarre uneasy way. It’s like MARS ATTACKS meets HOUSE OF CARDS.

One problem is it’s a political satire without much bite. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are really skewered. The series theme is that extremists are crippling the government, but the attacks are (a) pretty balanced (and what fun is that?), and (b) mostly a lot of poli-speak gobbledygook that is hard to follow and who gives a shit? Maybe if it were on a cable network or subscription service it would have more punch. I get the sense CBS doesn’t want to offend either political party or eusocial insects.

Another problem is that it’s hard to follow because I still don’t know what the rules are. What are these space ants trying to achieve? Why do some of the invaded people turn into Bill O’Reilly and in others their heads explode? Are there Kamikaze ants? Do the ants take political sides?  Are there red ants and blue ants?  On THE GOOD WIFE I never had that problem. It’s the Roach Motel of storytelling ideas go in and they never come out.

And yet, along the way, there are some fun moments or scenes, and the best part of the show is the musical recaps composed and sung by Jonathan Coulton.

Also, Tony Shalhoub (as always) is a hoot! He plays a Republican senator
whose brain has either been infected by ants or Ann Coulter. Series star, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (an indie-film darling) is good as the anti-ant heroine trying to piece together all of the weirdness and stop them before they can get into Bryce Harper’s ear and ruin the Washington Nationals’ season. So far it’s not a very taxing part for Lizzie. She needs just two expressions. “Huh?” and “HUH?”

What do you guys all think? I’ll give it another week. I want to like it. Maybe next week it will all come together. Or, at the very least, Elizabeth will come home to find her vibrator scurrying across the living room floor.

30 comments:

richard Y said...

It is hard to follow but Elizabeth and Tony are the best parts of the show.

Mork said...

I've been enjoying it quite a bit. No, it's not brilliant television. It will never be mistaken for "Breaking Bad" or "The Sopranos" or even "The Good Wife" (well, the music score might be...), but for me, it's doing what it's meant to do: entertain. It's silly escapist entertainment that hasn't gotten tedious.

I'm really hoping the Kings' plan for this was a self-contained limited run, that at the end of this batch of episodes, we'll get a scene where the space ants explain everything (preferably without one of them slapping someone in the final scene) and that will be it.

(BTW, they're not running one next week because of the holiday.)

blinky said...

Two words: Cop Rock.
In 20 years we will look back and admire how ground breaking and ahead of its time Brain Dead was. Of course in 20 years the ants will indeed take over the earth and be our insect overlords. All hail Queen Red Thorax! May her eggs be robust and magnificent!

Alan said...

I saw the door of the thing that contained the thing that contained the ants was left open...and as the ants crawled onto the floor, I turned it off.

Unknown said...

Exactly the same reaction. That I haven't yet seen #3 (it's still on my DVR so I'll see it before #4) is because I have no idea what's going on. But like you I want to like it because I loved The Good Wife. But what the heck is going on? - MW

John Hammes said...

LateShowApplicant posted yesterday (regarding the CBS Late Show) that with a topical show "... almost everything... is never going to be useful again", though adding that at least a few segments can be "... evergreens ...".

Sounds like "BrainDead" is going for the "evergreen" route... allowing for the somewhat generic activities of Washington D.C. we all know and love, the characterizations that Mark Twain and Will Rogers used to poke fun at, the general atmosphere and "schlock fest" that viewers can still "understand" and appreciate a decade or so - or more - just as today. Mercifully, though, future viewers will not have to suffer through some of this year's headlines.


And, yes, there should still be some bite. These are ants.

You were thinking the same thing.

William C Bonner said...

I like the show, but wish it was more biting on the politicians from either / both sides.

The combination of DVR and being a summer show with no competition means that I'm sure I'll see every episode, but without a multi channel DVR I couldn't say the same if it had come out in prime season.

Gary Campbell said...

I was anticipating a great show from the trailers, but the first episode fell flat for me, and I have not watched any others.

John Hammes said...

Apparently there are indeed references to today's names and news, so I stand corrected. Hopefully, these references will still be more or less only incidental, allowing for maximum viewer enjoyment of the incomprehensible story lines.

gottacook said...

Haven't seen it, but I might tune in to see Tony Shalhoub. (Last time I saw a straight play in NYC, he was in it - The Heidi Chronicles with Christine Lahti in the lead. Also in the cast, "David Pierce.")

The thing about series and movies like this is, once you choose not to get specific about parties, what does that leave you? In 1979 I saw The Seduction of Joe Tynan (written by and starring Alan Alda, but not directed by him) and the climactic scene at the national convention was so odd, it threw off the whole flavor of the picture - there was absolutely no indication of which party's convention this was, despite all the other usual trappings (big banners with state names, etc.).

Choosing to tell stories about Republicans or Democrats, of course, entails a different set of problems. The most disappointed I ever became in The Good Wife was the sequence of Iowa caucus-related episodes, leading up to vote tallies that included three real Democratic candidates as well as Gov. Florrick. I don't blame the Kings for wanting to avoid going down that road again.

Boomska316 said...

It sounds like the plot for a SyFy movie original.

EmmettFlatus said...

What do I think of Braindead? Stupid and boring. I watched the first episode then the second to see if the series is as bad as I first thought. Yep. Automatic recording cancelled. Life's too short to dedicate any to this.

Pete Grossman said...

Respect The Good Wife team, but was not lured and don't watch. Just got a WTF feeling from the promos and thought, this is too stoopid, or stupit, or something like that. That said, good luck to them, because they are not stupid.

MWire said...

I for one welcome our new insect overlords.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I loved the first two years of THE GOOD WIFE, liked the second three and a half years, and spent the last year and a half hoping it would get its mojo back. So the only thing I hoped for with this show was 1) great opening shots, which TGW always had, and 2) a modicum of intelligent writing. I don't like horror, which doesn't help.

I was bored by the second episode. I haven't seen the third yet because what's currently going on in British politics is utterly engrossing. *And*: Wimbledon.

wg

ADmin said...

"I’m not usually a fan of shows about ants (Yes, I know I’m in the minority)" - Good 'un, Ken!

Frank said...

I found your comments to be mostly what I was feeling. I kind of liked it but didn't entirely know why. Well, other than the fact I found Mary Elizabeth Winstead stunning. I couldn't predict where this plot was going. It seems it doesn't take itself too seriously either.

David P said...

Friday Question:

A number of series have thrown in a musical episode to mix things up ("Once More With Feeling" on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example).

Given the talent you had on Frasier, why did you never try it there?

MikeK.Pa. said...

It's summer and I'll give it a lot of leeway. Mary Elizabeth is enjoyable. Reminds me of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. Episode 3 lost me a little when the guy has ants crawling all over his face, but elects to use a trap to bring a specimen in. Also, what animal lover would leave his/her pet behind, at the mercy of the insects?

AlaskaRay said...

I like it. It's not great, but it's good enough to keep my interest. As far as exploding heads, I've noticed that the characters who began as political ideologues survive, but smart people's heads detonate.

Duncan Randall said...

I love it. If you've ever worked in one of those offices, the constituent services stuff is hilarious. Also, I'm with Frank - Mary Elizabeth Winstead IS stunning. All criticisms here duly noted, but I think it's fun.

MikeN said...

I didn't know about the ants. I thought the point was that Winstead and others are ditzy.

Katherine Heigl- someone remembered.
Tips to all writers, don't have the daughter in law of the President who is CIA director type singlehandedly hunt down a terrorist, and if you do, don't have this director call home while standing 50 feet away from the terrorist camp.

Al in PDX said...

Not usually a fan of shows about ants? Not even Charley's Aunt?

David Arnott said...

Spot on. I find myself, each episode, *wanting* to like it, as opposed to actually liking it. And yet... I'm still watching :) But yeah, if some of these overall story points don't start gelling in an episode or two, I'm likely done.

Barry Traylor said...

I've had quite enough politics to last me for a long time thank you very much.

Mark P. said...

It reminds me of Heroes season 1. Slow exposition, a fascinating (and monotonically increasing) cast of characters, a conspiracy that may or may not be evil, more questions than answers. Heroes season 1 was a nice ride but kind of petered out in the finale. And so far, Braindead has been a nice ride.

Matt Celis said...

I didn't see any satire in the debut episode I watched. Also didn't laugh once. Story went nowhere. Nothing political about saying "there's dishonesty and power mongering among politicians!" Big exposé. Hard-hitting. Boring.

JayZ said...

Saw the first episode and was totally annoyed that the writers (probably NOT the Kings) would be so lazy and cynical as to use these ants as metaphor for all the crazy shit that goes on in Washington. That's the best you can do??? Not having it, thank you.

Craig Becker said...

I can see how the show might not be for everyone - but I'm loving every minute of it. I'm not sure how they might go extending it into a second season (and maybe they simply decided to do a fast single high-quality season and eschew the embrace the new rules of television, which say that it's okay, even good, for a show to have a fixed lifespan).

I think a lot of it is the characters - as with The Good Wife, many of them are easy to like. Solid, likeable characters will forgive a plethora of plot sins. Speaking of which, 300kHz is 15x (not 150x) human hearing range.

Martín H. said...

Tony Shalhoub wife is on the show too, she is Brooke Adams, who played a huge role in the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1978.
So the show is great for film buffs like me who found the title attractive even if this has nothing to do with those old splatters movies from Peter Jackson, but I like the occassional gory scene and having Tony "Monk" Shalhoub again on TV is a luxury nobody can deny.