I certainly give the show props for being ambitious. Trying to be a comedy/drama/satire/romance/political/sci-fi/farce/procedural/titillating/horror/thriller is not easy. The creators are Robert & Michelle King who will forever be in the TV writers’ Hall of Fame (as if there was such a thing) for THE GOOD WIFE alone. (Did Kirk Gibson ever have to do more than hit that dramatic home run in the 1988 World Series? Or Sharon Stone having to… you know … in BASIC INSTINCT?)
There were moments when BRAINDEAD was inspired fun. Unfortunately, the show was an hour.
So what went wrong? Or what went right but didn’t last?
I don’t have any definitive answers, just some theories. But here goes.
I think the show needed to declare just what it was. THE GOOD WIFE was clearly a drama with touches of comedy sprinkled in from time to time. But comedy did not have do any heavy lifting. MASH was a comedy with dramatic underpinnings. For hour comedies, I dunno, maybe ALLY MCBEAL?
The tone would shift on BRAINDEAD from moment to moment and you just had no idea what you were watching.
Now it’s not unusual for a show to find its groove several episodes in. The producers see what works and steer towards that. Part of why I stick with BRAINDEAD is that I feel sooner or later they will. It’s uneven now but they’ll find the right direction.
The visual tone is also a little schitzo. This too is understandable. Different directors come in and bring different strengths. At its best, the show tries to be somewhat Coen Brothers-esque. Odd angles, push ins and push outs, actors looking directly into the camera. Some directors pull it off better than others. On movies you have the advantage of one director with a consistent vision. Not so in TV, which is why networks want to hire movie directors to direct pilots. They establish a look and tone and hopefully the series directors can copy it. I suspect BRAINDEAD is hard on directors for all the problems I have with the show. Is this scene dramatic or tongue-in-cheek? Do bizarre angles enhance or detract from this moment?
I hope BRAINDEAD figures it out (assuming it comes back – a big assumption). Creatively, they’re walking a real tightrope that few can maneuver. I think of DR. STRANGELOVE as being one vehicle that did masterfully. But all of the characters, although deadly serious, had wacky points-of-view, and despite its extremely dramatic subject matter, the satire and absurdity of the situation hung over everything. As directed by Stanley Kubrick, DR. STRANGELOVE was definitely a comedy. Every so often the Coen Brothers can also strike a perfect “Fargo” balance.
So that's why I hung in there until the bitter end. And if it ever resurfaces I'll give it another chance. Maybe they'll figure it out. Personally, I hope they veer more towards comedy, if for no other reason than to keep doing the Jonathan Coulton recaps.