BrainDead: the brain-eating ant show that sums up 2016

From the makers of The Good Wife, this intelligent and silly political satire boasts hilarious musical recaps, camp gore and cutting gags. Whats not to like?

Its a risky time for political dramas. Nothing any TV show could come up with is as crazy as the real thing right now, and the public are at risk of suffering fatal levels of political overload. Its all over our news, why would we want to watch a fictional show about it too?

But what if that fictional show had space ants chewing through the brains of Republicans and Democrats? Do I have your attention now?

BrainDead is the new CBS show (airing weekly on Amazon Prime in the UK) from the makers of The Good Wife, although the two have nothing in common, unless there was some alien invasion subtext that we missed in The Good Wife. BrainDead stars Scott Pilgrims Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Laurel, the documentary-maker sister of a senator, who ropes her into helping him out during a government shutdown when the Democrats and the Republicans fail to agree on a budget. It soon becomes clear that the opposing sides are at loggerheads largely because those heads are full of space ants that crashed to Earth in a meteorite.

Those ants have wandered straight in from a B-movie and they dont care who knows it. Victims knock half their brains out of their ears like cartoon characters dislodging water, and the less lucky ones experience a Scanners-style head explosion due to, according to one of the shows more bizarre theories: ant farts. Those who are possessed experience personality shifts so dramatic that alcoholics move on to wheatgrass shots and liberals start wearing cardigans and pearls.

Mind
Mind the ant farts: Aaron Tveit as Gareth Ritter in BrainDead. Photograph: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
But while the alien element is pure B-movie, the rest of the show is grounded in reality, with the real-life Trump-Clinton battle waging in the background. The show largely steers clear of engaging too much in current affairs, but cant resist a little dig at Trump when one Republican senator states that they are four years away from being able to run. When his colleague points out that Trump is running this year, the senator just shrugs it off. Even in this surreal world of politically fanatical aliens, Trump is considered too crazy for the Republicans.

But, with the exception of Trump, BrainDead is a show that embraces crazy, both with the aliens and the politics (theres a tax prom thats so weird it has to be a real thing). Once the brilliantly obsessive Gustav joins Laurel in her investigation of the aliens, things get taping-red-solo-cups-to-your-ears crazy.

The show steers away from painting one side as the bad guys, instead lambasting the whole US political system for their inability to put their ego (or fanaticism) aside and agree on anything. In one excellent montage, a Republican and a Democrat are both shown hitting online forums hard, going straight for the caps lock and spewing their crazy all over the internet. Two of the sanest characters in the show Laurel and her love interest Gareth (which presumably is a much sexier name in America than it is in the UK) are from opposing parties.

The political gags arent as cutting (or sweary) as Veeps, nor is the supernatural menace as tense as Game of Thrones. The whole thing is as light as candyfloss, from the hilarious opening musical recaps (why doesnt every show do musical recaps?) to the end credits music which sounds like its come straight from a 1990s Barry Sonnenfeld movie. One of the big bads is played by Tony Monk Shalhoub, which gives you an idea of how seriously youre supposed to take the whole thing. When a head explodes you dont look away in disgust, you laugh. There are some real shocks (in the words of the musical recap: My God, you monsters, not the cat), but youll be grinning while you gasp. The gore is camp, the tone is intelligently silly and the characters are thin but well defined and Winstead finally has a role that allows her to shine.

BrainDead is the perfect antidote to 2016, which has been a far too serious year. So lets poke fun at it.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/aug/12/braindead-brain-eating-ants-political-satire

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