The pilot of BrainDead opens with a statement: “In the year 2016, there was a growing sense that people were losing their minds.” This is a fairly true fact, especially when placed over clips of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Bernie Sanders, and various cable-news talking heads, all yelling incoherently at one another. What’s less true — at least I hope — is the rest of the pilot episode, which posits that the reason everyone in Washington, D.C. is so crazy is because they’ve all had their brains eaten by space bugs.
Yes, that’s brain-eating space bugs. You read that correctly.
Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to BrainDead, our leading contender for the strangest, most delightful new show on television this summer. Our heroine is Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, of 10 Cloverfield Lane and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). Born and raised in a family that lives and breathes D.C. politics, Laurel rebels by heading to L.A. and becoming a documentary filmmaker, specializing in subjects like religious music in the Solomon Islands. It isn’t until she starts running out of money (and her powerful father pressures her into returning to D.C.) that she decides to sell out and work as a staffer for her brother, charming Maryland senator and Democratic whip Luke Healy (Danny Pino). It’s supposed to be a short-term gig, six months at the most, but, of course, strange things start happening pretty quickly. Extraterrestrial things, to be exact.
Laurel’s first day starts innocently enough. The gridlocked Congress is on the verge of a massive government shutdown, which means she’s stuck handling constituent casework, a.k.a. trying to appease the random voters who wander into Sen. Healy’s office. It’s less about solving their problems and more about making sure they vote for Luke in the next election cycle. Most of it’s juggling Social Security issues and handling the occasional crazy constituent intent on giving the senator a dog made out of chocolate. That is until she meets a woman who’s concerned that her husband is…different. Randall Burke went from being a hard-drinking loudmouth to a quiet teetotaler, seemingly overnight after coming into contact with a meteor. Even more mysteriously, Sen. Healy’s office was responsible for shipping the meteor from Russia to D.C.
But Laurel doesn’t have time to worry about this seemingly trivial problem, because she’s soon accosted by the handsome and slightly smarmy Gareth Ritter (Broadway star and Grease Live! alum Aaron Tveit), who works for Maryland Republican Sen. Red Wheatus (Tony Shalhoub). Gareth, as he tells Laurel, wants to stop the impending government shutdown and help the Republicans and Democrats come to an agreement, in exchange for a few million dollars’ worth of earmarks for autism research. (Side note: If Tveit doesn’t sing at some point on BrainDead, there will be rioting and many upset Broadway fans. Including me.)
Excitedly, Laurel brings this to her brother, only to learn that a) he’s sleeping with his chief of staff, Scarlett, despite having a wife who is eight months pregnant; and b) he and the Democrats are going to pass on Gareth’s deal and let the government shut down, all in the hopes of blaming the whole mess on the Republicans. So in case you haven’t noticed yet, BrainDead is pretty pessimistic about the state of Washington.
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The shutdown happens, lots of people are out of work, and as a result, things start to get sloppy in D.C. Specifically, the Smithsonian is closed, which means no one is monitoring the aforementioned meteor. And as it turns out, that meteor is filled with the aforementioned brain-eating space bugs, which are now on the loose and chowing down on delicious gray matter. Pretty soon, it’s clear that those infected turn into extremely partisan zombies who avoid alcohol and love “You Might Think” by The Cars.
Which totally sucks, because I really like that song and now I’m forever going to associate it with space bugs. Although to be fair, it’s a great choice: The trippy music video does, after all, feature Ric Ocasek turning into a bug and stalking a woman. Fitting.
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