CBS' 'BrainDead': Politics and sci-fi with a sense of humor from 'The Good Wife' creators

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Laurel Healy in 'BrainDead.'

You might think they're crazy, but the first thing to know about Robert and Michelle King's new CBS series BrainDead is that the creators of The Good Wife have not lost their minds.

They've just taken their penchant for politics and public policy on a CBS-style summer vacation, the kind in which ant-like creatures from outer space picnic in people's brains.

Though no sillier at heart than Under the Dome, Zoo or Extant, the Kings' Washington, D.C.-set BrainDead, which premieres at 10 p.m. Monday, is sci-fi with a healthy sense of the ridiculous.

Which might just be the kind of sense we're going to need to get through this particular summer.

Less an escape from day-to-day politics than a raucous accompaniment, BrainDead exists in a world in which Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders all exist (and can be heard speechifying), but focuses on a fictional Congress and a partisan-driven government shutdown.

If you're already feeling as if your head might explode, just wait until the heads start actually exploding.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Mercy Street) stars as Laurel Healy, a California-based documentary filmmaker whose wheeler-dealer father (Zach Grenier, The Good Wife's David Lee) bribes her into returning home to D.C. to work for her brother, Luke (Danny Pino, Law & Order: SVU), a Democratic senator.

Aaron Tveit (Graceland, Les Miserables) plays Gareth Ritter, aide to Republican Sen. Red Wheatus (Tony Shalhoub, Monk) and a man whose plan to end the shutdown brings him into Laurel's orbit.

The shutdown also is responsible for leaving a recently recovered meteor sample unattended - when the federal government stops, some scientists, too, get furloughed - leading to an invasion of brain-invading alien insects impervious to pesticide.

What happens when these critters take over politicians' brains? Their slightly robotic new hosts stop drinking and become even more convinced that theirs is the only way. Democrats and Republicans alike dig in their heels and refuse to bargain.

Oh, and they all seem to become extraordinarily fond of the Cars' 1984 song, "You Might Think."

Fans of The Good Wife will recognize the Kings' preoccupation with the NSA and eavesdropping via cellphone, which came up more than once in the three episodes I saw. They may also spot some Good Wife veterans besides Grenier, including Nikki M. James and Megan Hilty.

I don't know how many viewers will even be aware of episode titles like, "The Insanity Principle: How Extremism in Politics is Threatening Democracy in the 21st Century," and, "Playing Politics: Living Life in the Shadow of the Budget Showdown - a Critique," but they're hilariously apt.

So, too, are the musical recaps at the beginning of every episode after the first.

They, too, have a link to the Kings' previous show. They're written and performed by singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton, who appeared in an episode of The Good Wife (which had based a different episode on a dispute between Coulton and the TV show Glee).

As cynical as it is about the state of the union, there's a streak of idealism running through BrainDead that kept me rooting for the uninfected, and especially for Laurel and Gareth, whose politically fraught flirtation might just put the party back in the two-party system.


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