BrainDead: How creators Robert and Michelle King dreamed up its gags
To find out how the wackiest pieces of CBS’ political comedy-thriller BrainDead came to be, EW picked the brains — no, not like that — of creators Robert and Michelle King. Below, The Good Wife vets talk bringing the metaphorical horror of politics to disgusting, small-screen life:
The Creepy Bugs
Robert King chose ants to portray the politician-chasing, alien-without-looking-too-alien crawlers based on the real-life flesh-eating screwworm — don’t Google any pictures! — after thinking back to an ant and cockroach infestation in his first home in L.A. “Ants can get anywhere,” he says. “It’s the idea of small being terrifying.” Will any roaches pop up? “There’s a thin line between comically gross and just disgusting.”
The Gooey Brains
The extraterrestrial ants push Sen. Red Wheatus’ (Tony Shalhoub) brain out through his ear thanks to a “bowel movement,” as Robert King puts it, that occurs inside his head. It’s a metaphor for how lawmakers tend to squeeze out thoughts that oppose their positions. In other words, the ants cause brain constipation, and heads full-on explode when the bugs pass too much gas. Are you brain-sick yet?
The Go-To Juice
Infected humans like Senator Wheatus grow fond of healthy green drinks, but not for dietary reasons. Instead, the alien bugs make their hosts “purify” their bodies to distract from their sudden passionate views. Still, the senator’s drink is made up of healthy ingredients. “He’s extra fond of kale,” notes Michelle King. “There’s some cucumber and maybe some broccoli thrown in.” Delicious!
The Catchy Song
Another sign of ant-induced mind control: the resurgence of the Cars’ 1984 single “You Might Think,” heard throughout every episode. The Kings originally chose Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life,” but after stumbling upon the “Walk of Life” Project — a series of videos proving how “Walk of Life” would be the perfect song to end any movie — “we wanted something lively and peppy that would play against the horror,” Michelle King says. So, has the cast grown tired of the tune? “No,” she says with a laugh. “They’re real pros.”
The Real-Life Politics
The Kings have integrated election politics into the show, but the idea for BrainDead came long before this year’s bombastic D.C. drama. “[BrainDead] was really based on the government shutdown in 2013, when people seemed to completely lose their minds,” Robert King says. “There seemed to be this magical thinking about anger, that if you’re angry enough, you’ll get what you want politically.” That perspective still stands, he explains, so BrainDead writers simply inserted current events. Up next? Brexit, the U.K.’s decision to leave the European Union, which shook up international politics and led to reports of regret from certain voters. “I feel like Brexit will play out over the next few months, so we’ll see,” Robert King teases. “The whole point of the show goes back to its political roots, to show how there seems to be this whole series of politicians and voters who seem to be using half of their brains… The series will hopefully make people laugh but also appall them at the same time.”
BrainDead airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.
A version of this story appears in this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now. Buy it here and subscribe now for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.