Television

If Politicians Were Controlled by Space Aliens, Would We Notice?

Kang and Kodos go to Washington in new CBS show.

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BrainDead
'Braindead' / CBS

BrainDead. CBS. Monday, June 13, 10 p.m.

The only real question about BrainDead is which CBS division produces it: news or entertainment. Because in the epoch of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders, a show in which space aliens bore holes in the brain of Washington politicians and cause them to spout gibberish sounds more like an extension of 60 Minutes than the pulpy, black-humor sci-fi drama that BrainDead purports to be.

Not that BrainDead isn't bleakly hilarious, to a pee-your-pants-laughing degree, and drive-in-movie creepy. It sooooo is, and it's the show of the summer and possibly of the year. But not since The Werewolf Of Washington popped up during the 1973 summer of Watergate has Hollywood captured the moment's political gestalt with such deadly accuracy.

Interestingly, husband-and-wife producers Robert and Michelle King—the team that created the political-legal drama The Good Wife—sold BrainDead show to CBS back in the fall of 2014, when even the most cynical detractors of American politics could not have foreseen that the next presidential campaign would fought out among a scandalophiliac liar, a stage-four Tourette's victim, and a raving Vermont socialist who apparently clawed his way out of a 1968 time capsule.

But the Kings seized their moment when it came. BrainDead plays out against a constant background of cable-news reports about small hands, Mexican walls and errant emails that blur the line between reality and fantasy into a dark, nutball smudge. Seriously: Didn't Chris Christie, standing behind Don Trump on the podium on Super Tuesday, look a little bit like parasites were gnawing on his brain?

BrainDead's protagonist is Laurel Healey (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the resourceful young hostage of 10 Cloverfield Lane), the daughter of a Washington political family who fled to make documentaries that are all unfinished, unfunded, and likely to remain that way barring an astonishing upsurge in public thirst for knowledge about the religious hymns of the Solomon Islands.

Though she detests politics, Laurel makes a deal with the devil—her Washington kingmaker dad (Zach Grenier, The Good Wife)—to take a job on the staff of her Democratic senator brother Luke (Danny Pino, Cold Case) in return for money to complete her films.

First assignment: case work with constituents jousting with the government over everything from better access to national parks to Obamacare ("It's a rash, not a preexisting condition!") The oddest—well, second-oddest, behind a guy who wants to give the senator a life-size sculpture made of chocolate—is a woman who insists "My husband Randall, he's not my husband anymore."

That scene is either an homage to, or a theft from, the 1956 film Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and it's not the last one. BrainDead is like a mirthful, manic handball game between Don Seigel's paranoid classic (an allegory on either McCarthyism or creeping communism, take your pick) and Frank Capra's mushhead-civics epic Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

The intergalactic body snatchers aren't the pods of Siegel's film, but I don't want to spoil your spontaneous screech of "Yeccch!" by giving away their precise modus manducandi; suffice it to say that by the end of the first episode, you'll wish those "orifice-protection systems" we used to see in mock National Lampoon ads were real.

Like Siegel's bodysnatchers, BrainDead's render their hosts sexually indifferent; but in a marked difference, they become not lazily mellow, but more combative, at least where politics are concerned, chanting meaningless ideological factoids ("Did you know Denmark's child-poverty rate is like a quarter of America's?") up to the point, and sometimes past it, where their heads explode. (Imagine a "scenes we'd love to see" of a Crossfire-like show.)

But BrainDead's cynical mockery of American politics begins well before the aliens creep into the scene. "What is a Democrat these days? What is a Republican?" asks an oily GOP senator trying to persuade a Democrat to switch parties and deliver him control of the Senate. "You ate Cheerios this morning, you'll eat Wheat Chex tomorrow."

No scripted series has ever been more riotously contemptuous of Washington verities. If H.L. Mencken himself were reincarnated as a TV screenwriter, I don't think he could have come up with the scene in which the naif Laurel, appalled by a discussion of how to best smear an opponent, blurts "Why don't you just say she kills puppies and call it a day?"… and then watches in appalled silence as they do just that.

Laurel herself personifies the infectious corruption of the system. On her very first day of work, she learns that her brother is both a personal and political sleazebag, cheating on his pregnant wife while contriving with Republicans to stage a government shutdown that each party believes can be successfully blamed on the other.

But within the week, her dorky idealism proves no match for her skanky political genes; she discovers a profound aptitude for manipulation and espionage. What's more, she kind of likes it, beaming prettily and only slightly shame-facedly as another aide congratulates her—"Your first leak!"—after she plants a scabrous story in the press about a rival pol.

Winstead, who started her career with a series of doomed-ingenue roles in grade-Z horror pics (her improbable breakout came after Jay Leno, in one of his candid-camera "Jaywalking" stunts, knocked on her apartment door without knowing she was an actress and invited her to appear in a quickie slasher spoof for The Tonight Show) certainly cements the claim to leading-lady status she established in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Her performance in BrainDead is smart, funny and casually sexy. She strikes a considerable spark with Aaron Tveit (Graceland), who plays a Republican aide who is first the object of her political espionage and then her affections.

In fact, the cast of BrainDead is uniformly excellent, including Johnny Ray Gill (Underground) as an Internet conspiracy theorist (his exposes include one headlined THE TRUTH BEHIND THE MAPLE SYRUP SMELL IN NEW JERSEY) and expert on insect flatulence and Paige Patterson (Hell On Wheels) as a legislative aide who is a lock for an Emmy for Best Resting Space-Alien Bitch Face.

Junior G-Man Crimestopper TipBrainDead victims of body-snatching aliens can often be spotted through their obsessive listening to the 1984 Cars record You Might Think, which bolsters the long-standing Baby Boomer theory that Gen X is the weak link in humanity's genetic chain.

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  1. Mr. Lizard unavailable for comment.

    1. The aliens leave Florida alone, that’s Lizard People territory.

  2. Winstead, who started her career with a series of doomed-ingenue roles in grade-Z horror pics

    That’s mean. Final Destination 3 is at least a grade-B horror pic.

    1. Thanks, I’ve actually seen that – unlike almost every other reference in the post.

  3. Aliens would be so much smarter than that. Even the slithery ones.

  4. Speaking of brain dead, guess who said this:

    “I believe Clinton did break the law but at the same time I don’t think there’s evidence she committed a crime.”

    1. Samantha Bee?

    2. Every Prog female over the age of 50?

    3. I may believe that a man committed a murder, but there is no DNA, murder weapon, fingerprint or video to prove he did it.

    4. AG Loretta Lynch?

    5. CUNY Law Professor Douglas Cox?

      1. We have a winner.

        Question: how does one break the law without committing a crime?

        1. Holy fuck, a law professor said that? Not brain-dead, mendacious.

          1. CUNY, but still…

        2. In fairness, he didn’t say she didn’t commit a crime, he said there was no evidence. . .

          1. Based on my understanding of the laws at issue, there’s mountains of evidence. Whether it adds up to “no reasonable doubt” is always a question, but to say there’s no evidence at all is pure bullshit.

            1. What R C said. The evidence is clear.

    6. Bernie Sanders?

  5. what’s wrong with The Cars?

    1. You’ve just outed yourself, you brain-sucking alien freak, you.

      1. You might think he’s crazy, but all he wants is you.

  6. Speaking of brain-dead, guess who said this:

    “I believe Clinton did break the law but at the same time I don’t think there’s evidence she committed a crime.”

  7. How do they decide which articles also go on FB? they have already posted this one to FB, but not the Venezuela one.

  8. Danny Pino’s best work was as Armadillo on The Shield.

  9. “obsessive listening to the 1984 Cars record You Might Think”

    And just what’s wrong with that?

    1. You’re one of THEM! DIE YOU ALIEN BASTARD! *shotgun blasts wef in the head*

  10. Mary Elizabeth Winstead? Will watch! Will watch two times!

    Also, have you never seen a Die Hard movie?

    1. She is also in that PBS series “Mercy Street” about a Civil war hospital set up in a southern mansion.

  11. “The intergalactic body snatchers aren’t the pods of Siegel’s film, but I don’t want to spoil your spontaneous screech of “Yeccch!” by giving away their precise modus manducandi; suffice it to say that by the end of the first episode, you’ll wish those “orifice-protection systems” we used to see in mock National Lampoon ads were real”

    Oh – so it’s a rip off of that “Night of the Creeps” movie, then.

    1. Which was itself a rip-off of Shivers.

  12. This has been done before, and with a much better cast…

    1. Keith David and Yaphet Kotto? Sold.

  13. Let freedom ring.

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) ? Thousands of California gun owners hoping to legally carry concealed weapons for personal protection were dealt a setback when a federal appeals court upheld a state law requiring applicants to show a good reason beyond simple safety.

    The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Americans don’t have a constitutional right to carry concealed guns in public and that California law enforcement officials can require applicants to show “good cause” such as routinely carrying large amounts of money before granting permits.

    1. So, being concerned for your life and physical well-being is not a good enough reason, but if you’re carrying a large amount of money, then you’re allowed to protect yourself.

      Got it.

      1. Well, if you have large amounts of money, and a gun, then the cops have an excuse to shoot you and seize your money. I expect that they decided to encourage that sort of thing.

        1. I love that our laws are so logical and efficient.

      2. The only reason you’d want a gun while carrying large amounts of money is because you fear for your safety.

        1. Well, unless you’re acquiring those large amounts of money with the gun, of course.

    2. So, my stated self-image is sufficient to give me access to women’s bathrooms, but Second Amendment rights require more justification than mere safety…?

    1. Welp, seems I’ve met my quota for terrifying images today.

    2. We call them jegroe fleas now.

      1. jigga please!

      2. You realize there is a domestic (native to US) parasite called a “chigger,” right? Chiggers are arachnids (spiders, mites, ticks) not fleas (insects), though. And nowhere near as serious though the bites itch like crazy.

        1. We used to call them “chigroes”, so as not be offensive.

    3. Meh, I’ve seen worse. Bad cases can take a long time to treat though.

      1. Duuuuude…

  14. Republican House passes PR bailout. But remember, the GOP can’t nominate Trump because he is not a conservative. They should nominate a real conservative like Paul Ryan.

    1. I’m so glad my girlfriend and I work our assess off to help pay for the free shit the governor or puerto rico gave away to buy votes!

      1. Isn’t it great? And we have to make sure the bond holders are paid off lest every other state be unable to borrow money they have no hope of ever paying back absent a federal bailout. Moral hazard? What is that?

      2. Don’t think of it as paying the debts of broke Puerto Ricans. Think of it as preventing hedge funds from having to take a haircut on Puertto Rican debt.

        1. …sure, because 4 trillion dollars of quantitative easing wasn’t enough free money to pour into Wall Street.

          *sigh*. Perverse incentives ftw.

      3. Why the heck have any Americans ever opposed Puerto Rican independence? Let them go their own way so they too can achieve the economic splendor of Jamaica or St. Kitts or even Cuba.

    2. Never fucking fails. Those window-licking Simple Jack motherfuckers just couldn’t be bothered to learn from the last time we threw a bunch of money we didn’t have at entities who didn’t want to be responsible for their own shitty decisions.

      So how long until California asks for a bailout?

      1. Until about February of next year when they swear in the new Congress.

        1. This is the kind of shit that starts open revolts. When a significant portion of one’s earnings go towards paying the pension Ponzi schemes of aging bureaucrats in places you’ve never been and have nothing to do with, people get pissed.

          1. That’s why you have to have enough “bread and circuses” to keep people distracted by stupid shit like Kim Kardashian’s ass or who won on American Idol/ The Voice/ whatever.

            And we have the best “bread and circuses” in the history of mankind.

            1. Kim Kardashian’s ass is something that’s a perfectly reasonable and socially worthy distraction.

              The real bread and circuses is $15 minimum wage.

    3. Jesus fuck, we’re officially the EU.

        1. Actually, we’re stupider than the EU, because we just watched throw money at Greece to no effect, and went ahead and did the same thing anyway.

      1. The EU at least tries to force its member states to balance their budgets; the US doesn’t even try.

  15. “…sold BrainDead show to CBS back in the fall of 2014, when even the most cynical detractors of American politics could not have foreseen that the next presidential campaign would fought out among a scandalophiliac liar, a stage-four Tourette’s victim, and a raving Vermont socialist who apparently clawed his way out of a 1968 time capsule…”

    Hey, by then we had a tin-pot-dictator wannabe who claimed transparency without most of the electorate collapsing in laughter.

  16. not since The Werewolf Of Washington popped up during the 1973 summer of Watergate has Hollywood captured the moment’s political gestalt with such deadly accuracy.

    What is “Wag the Dog”, chopped liver?

    1. Yeah, and it’s like no one here has heard of Veep, which is accidentally the finest documentary on Washington politics and competency therein ever produced.

  17. RE: If Politicians Were Controlled by Space Aliens, Would We Notice?

    I’ve been observing the democrats and republicans for decades and have come to the conclusion the space aliens could do no worse than the idiots from Hell who have been “representing” us.

    1. Cthulhu for President.

      1. Why settle for the lesser of two evils? Vote the Elder Party!

  18. Frank Capra’s mushhead-civics epic Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

    Blasphemy!

  19. Wouldn’t it be something to find the only thing stopping the space alien invasion is the much-despised mosquito.

    1. Or gluten.

    2. Nicotine. To prove you aren’t a host/alien, you have to smoke a cigarette.

      1. Alright, dang it, I’m now seeing a Tim Powers-style book where tobacco was introduced by a cabal fighting the alien invasion, and the war on tobacco is the counterattack.

  20. I am Clin-Ton. As overlord, all will kneel trembling before me and obey my brutal commands. End communication.

    1. Bob Dole doesn’t need this.

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  27. That scene is either an homage to, or a theft from, the 1956 film Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

    The scene? The whole series is an homage to, or a theft from, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers.

  28. Lead is a failed documentary producer? Family is a bunch of Democrat politicians? I’m willing to be that the progressive bromides flow thickly in this one. I swear if I have to listen to another hero, ever, say “but if I shoot [insert horrifically vile, deserving-of-death villain here] I become just like him!” I think I’ll puke.

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  31. pretty good show.

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