‘BrainDead’ Series Premiere: “The Insanity Principle…” Review (Season 1 Episode 1)

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The latest effort from the husband-wife writing/producing team Robert and Michelle King, who last brought us the late, much-lamented “The Good Wife,” “BrainDead” is a decidedly different sort of show that tosses a heavy dose of sci-fi and satire into the politics this time around, resulting in a show that’s sort of like a more straight-faced “Veep” crossed with “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

It also has one of the longest pilot titles I’ve ever seen, which I neglected to include in my own title, lest WordPress completely self-destruct. Brace yourself, it’s: “The Insanity Principle: How Extremism in Politics is Threatening Democracy in the 21st Century,” which sounds more like an essay by an ambitious college student than a pilot title- or maybe a TED talk- and from the looks of things, those titles aren’t getting any shorter, either, but we’ll get into that next week.

Until then, we have this episode, which is more set-up than anything else, but what a set-up! “In 2016, there was a growing sense that people were losing their minds, and no one knew why…until now.” We see a meteor land in Russia, where it is picked up by a group of scientists, who then transfer it to the States where…something inside crawls out and sets about infecting people left and right.

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Looking like a trail of ants, the alien creatures look to be relatively harmless- that is, until they burrow into your ears, eat their way through the brain matter to the other side and take over the hosts in question- or what’s left of their brain, anyway. Their likes seem to include the 80’s band The Cars, particularly “You Might Think,” clean living (booze is a big no-no) and, um… a worthy political agenda?

Actually, it’s too soon to say what their agenda is, but it certainly seems to involve bridging the gap between opposite political parties to ensure they work together in spite of their differences. Sounds like we could have used them a few years ago when Congress shut down before! A similar thing happens here, until the aliens shut that noise down practically overnight by brokering a deal between a Democratic Senator and a Republican one.

The latter is Red Wheatus, played by the always-welcome Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”), himself no stranger to aliens, thanks to his turns in “Men in Black” and “Galaxy Quest.” Wheatus goes from a lax, alcoholic, borderline loser to a straight-laced, gung-ho, go-getter after his own possession by said aliens, much to the shock of his right-hand man, Gareth Ritter (Aaron Tveit, “Gossip Girl”), who had tried to broker a deal behind his back to avoid said shutdown ahead of the fact.

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Ritter contacts newbie Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “10 Cloverfield Lane”), the sister of philandering Democratic Senator Luke (Danny Pino, “Cold Case”) and offers her an off-the-books deal in hopes of forcing a premature end to a potential government shutdown that could put some 100,000 people out of work. Luke refuses the deal, and the shutdown occurs, but agrees to a more official sit-down with Wheatus to come to a more favorable arrangement.

The two strike a deal, but then Wheatus goes home and the alien invasion happens and the next thing you know, he’s making a different deal with a different Senator, Spitz (Lewis Cleale) behind Luke’s back. Not sure why the aliens prefer one Democratic Senator to the other, but maybe he’s possessed, too, and Luke isn’t…yet. We’ll just have to wait and see on that one.

Meanwhile, Laurel, who only agreed to her job to secure funding to finish a documentary she’s working on and help pay off her student loans, is helping out people with complaints on the side, including a fan-boy who comes bearing a giant chocolate dog (!) and a wife who can’t seem to get word on the whereabouts of her husband and wants help finding him.

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Laurel gets a lead on his last known location, a ship bearing the container that held the aforementioned meteor and talks to the Captain and others, who are oddly disaffected and seem to be towing the company line, all saying not just variations of the same thing, but literally the same thing, when they’re not staring at Laurel ominously and jamming out to The Cars.

She finally tracks down the container in question and sees the meteor, then finds the doctor in charge of the shipment, who is screaming in pain. She has a guard call for an ambulance and rides back to the hospital with him, but his head quite literally explodes on the way there, splattering all over all concerned.

Left with no real answers and back to square one, Laurel is stunned when the wife comes in, husband in tow, saying that all’s well, with the husband once again giving the exact same answers as his employers- or should I say his alien overlords?

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As we see in a scene shortly beforehand, the husband held down his wife in bed so that the aliens could possess his wife as well, so with no reason to follow anything up anymore, Laurel is left not knowing what to do with any of this. Nor the viewer, for that matter. That’s about it, save the revelation that Laurel’s brother’s mistress, Scarlett (Paige Patterson, “Hell on Wheels”) is also among the possessed, which may mean that Luke’s days are numbered as well.

To say that this was a nutty episode all around is putting it mildly. I wasn’t a “”Good Wife” viewer, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there probably wasn’t a lot of head explosions or aliens eating brains and possessing people to be found there- although it would probably explain some of the behavior on the show if there were, lol.

However, I am familiar with writer/co-creator Robert King’s early work from my childhood, having been a fan of some of his horror flicks, notably “Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge” (a fun, silly slasher flick with Pauly Shore and Morgan Fairchild), “The Nest” (which featured killer cockroaches, so “BrainDead” isn’t his first buggy rodeo) and wonderfully trashy actioners like “Bloodfist” (with Don “The Dragon” Wilson) and “Silk 2” (with 80’s fave Monique Gabrielle). Thanks, Skinemax!

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So, yeah, I’m guessing the more B-movie elements were likely his doings, while wife Michelle handled the more political leaning material and the drama- which is not to say both might not have contributed to the other, mind you, just that I would lay even money that the more gross-out oriented stuff was totally Robert’s forte, given that track record.

The show does amusingly incorporate current goings-on, like the whole Trump/Clinton mess, and Lord knows, it would certainly be nice to blame Trump’s insanity on something like alien invaders, least of all given some of his recent comments about certain things, but even the aliens here seem more civil than he does and they, lest we forget, are eating people’s brains.

But I digress. This was a somewhat slight-but-fun show that’s perfectly fine as summer viewing, least of all given a lot of the options out there, what with all the reality TV, game shows and competition-driven shows clogging up the airwaves at the moment. With that kind of crap to deal with, I’ll take whatever reasonably intelligent viewing I can get, and I just so happen to enjoy stuff of the B-Movie variety anyway, so this is firmly within that wheelhouse, to be sure.

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Does it have the right stuff to survive the planned four-season arc that the Kings have in mind? Hard to say. While it’s too soon to say how savvy the political humor will ultimately turn out to be, the gorier stuff might turn some off, and not everyone may like creepy critters in their political souffle, that’s for sure, so it’s definitely an acquired taste at best.

Still, with limited offerings in the mix, especially for those without expanded/pay cable or what have you, you never know- it could catch on. Also, we shouldn’t underestimate the loyalty of “Good Wife” fans, and there are some alumni of that show scheduled to crop up (the pilot featured at least one, Zach Grenier), which might be a draw as well.

That said, we’ll see how it goes, but so far, so-so. The show blew by at a pretty quickly-paced rate and I wasn’t bored by it on the whole, which is something. The premise is just intriguing enough to keep watching and the cast is pretty solid thus far. I’ve always thought Winstead was somewhat underrated, so it’s nice to see her front and center here, and I used to love “Cold Case,” so it’s nice to see Pino crop again after all this time as well.

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The rest will have to remain to be seen, but join me next week for an update on things and we’ll see if the show holds up to further scrutiny. You never know- it could get even better as it settles into the premise more. We shall see.

Until then, what did you think of the premiere of “BrainDead”? What do you think the show’s chances of survival are? Will you continue to watch? What did you think of the cast? How about the general premise? Sound off down below, and see you next week!