BrainDead: Violent Drama, Political Satire, or Sci-Fi Thriller?

Written by PTC | Published July 2, 2016

CBS’ new series has no clear direction – and is inappropriate for family viewers. What could possibly be causing the divisiveness and intractability in today’s politics? Could it be due to history? Poor education? Boredom? The creators of BrainDead have an idea – space bugs! Maybe, their theory goes, key members of the government in Washington have had their brains taken over and feasted upon by bugs from a crashed asteroid, and as a result, everything’s gone haywire. If this sounds like a joke…well, it’s probably meant to be. But is it funny? And if so, does it meet what parents can expect from a TV-14 comedy? These are good questions about this show, but the best question might be, “What is this show even doing?” BrainDead is a show trying really hard to be a political satire that ends up falling short and becoming…something else. From the creators of The Good Wife, the show follows Laurel Healy, a documentary filmmaker who, due to lack of money, has ended up back in the family business of politics by working for her brother, Senator Luke Healy. Little does she know that her friends and opponents are being infiltrated by tiny space bugs that are driving them crazy and blowing their heads apart. Yes, you read that right. This show features exploding heads. And not just a couple of exploding heads. At least one an episode, including one that, if it were Splash Mountain, you’d get wet. Now, in animation, exploding heads can be funny. Anything in animation, really, can hypothetically be funny, even if it’s disturbing. But in live action? Someone getting sprayed with gore after clearly being in pain and having their brains eaten by space bugs is more horror than anything else. Yet the show is political satire, right? Well, it’s trying to do that with a dark horror twist. Despite the goofy advertising of it by CBS that made it appear like a straight comedy, maybe this is actually a horror show. It’s pretty hard to tell, since the premise, on the face of it, is comedic. But, okay, a satire of Washington actually becoming a horror show? Sure, I guess that could work. Except for the space bugs. They’re the centerpiece of this show, the whole reason it exists, and simultaneously, the reason it doesn’t really work. First, it’s never really revealed what the bugs are doing, what their endgame is. Is this Invasion of the Body Snatchers? If so, what do the space bugs want? In the show, characters that have been taken over become more hard-line, but sometimes they become smarter, more able to make deals. Really there’s no definable change that happens; once you get taken over, anything can happen. This makes it impossible to understand the motivations of major characters, which then makes it pretty hard to care. It also sucks out all the satire, which was the original purpose in the first place, because there’s no deeper ridiculing of anyone other than space bugs – which don’t exist. So, what is this show doing? There’s no reason to think that even the creators know. Is it funny? Maybe, if you’re into stuff like Slither. Does it provide what parents can expect from a TV-14 comedy? No. Given the spontaneously combusting heads, this show is already more graphically violent than any other comedy on CBS -- and since it’s already gone there, there’s no telling where else it could go. In short, it’s hard to say anything about BrainDead other than that it’s, well…brain dead.

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