TV Review: Braindead (2016)

Posted: September 19, 2016 in Comedy, Drama
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braindead

Episode 1: The Insanity Principle

An asteroid crashes in Russia, and a chunk of the asteroid is being studied by Dr. Daudier (Michael Potts) in America.  He needs funding from Senator Luke Healy (Danny Pino) to further study the rock.  Luke’s sister Laurel (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is in DC, and decides to help with constituent services.  Laurel hears an odd story from a woman, who says her husband is behaving oddly after coming home from sea. Laurel becomes more suspicious after the couple seems deliriously happy the next time she sees them.  Suddenly, Dr. Daudier is dead.  What killed him? Laurel wants to find out.

The pilot blends two of my favorite subjects, politics and sci-fi, and does it expertly.  It takes real life events from politics and science and blends them with fictionalized characters.  Already Luke and Laura are well developed characters, and there are several interesting plot lines developing. And it is funny, hilariously funny!  I will be watching this season for sure.

Excellent acting is on display from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the straight man in the midst of all the craziness.  Danny Pino is a bit of a scoundrel as dashing debonair Luke. The always funny Tony Shaloub from Monk is very funny as a fall-down drunk Senator.  This gem of a show is written and directed by Robert and Michelle King, who created The Good Wife, which I’ve never seen. This is worth my time.

Episode 2: Playing Politics

The government shutdown is continuing. The Capital police are still investigating Dr. Daudier’s death. Gareth Ritter (Aaron Tvelt) aide to Senator Red Wheatus (Tony Shaloub) asks Laurel to the Tax Prom, and she accepts.  Laurel is trying to get one of Luke’s constituents, a little girl named Annie (Ripley Sobo) to see the Lincoln Monument.  Meanwhile, Rochelle Daudier (Nikki James) a resident in a DC hospital, and a chess player named Gustav Triplett  (Johnny Ray Gill) has some interesting information about what may have caused Dr Daudier’s death, and the death of a fellow chess player.

This is still an interesting mix of politics and sci-fi, with a touch of sex thrown in for good measure.  Danny Pino, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Aaron Tvelt are all very funny, the backroom deals may be exaggerated, but they are still funny, and the opposition research is instantaneous and hilarious.  Enjoy it, leave your politics at the door, have a laugh. The characters, are sharp, well-developed, and won’t hesitate to doublecross.

Episode 3: Goring Oxes

Laurel gets called in twice for questioning by the FBI about the deaths around DC.  Things are heating up between Laurel and Gareth. Laurel is not sure if she believes Gustav’s theory on the deaths but she is starting to be convinced.  Ella Pollack (Jan Maxwell) is challenging Luke for the Senate whip position, and using some dirty pool to get the votes.

This show gets politics, the leaks, the maneuvering, the competing cable news channels the Crossfire type tv show, and in skewers each of its targets with loads of satire.  This show literally has something for everyone and it’s all written so cleverly. There’s romance, sex, comedy, and the science fiction is even getting a little suspenseful in this episode.  I know when I’m caring about what happens to the secondary characters, a show has me hooked, and this one has me hooked.

Episode 4: Wake up Grassroots

Gustav has a new theory on the murders after something happens to his cat.  A new grass-roots organization, the One Wayers is formed.  Laurel gets chummy with Agent Onofrio, (Charlie Semine) and Gareth is sleeping with Misty Alise.(Megan Hilty)  Laurel and Rochelle try to get Abby to get tested to test Gustav’s theory, but Abby does something bizarre.

This is the first episode that lost its sense of humor and gets too involved in inside baseball politics and who’s sleeping with whom.  It retains some of its sense of humor near the end, but by then, a lot of the episode is done.

Episode 5:  Back To Work

Laurel tries to get Luke involved in whatever’s killing several people in DC.  Luke tries to get medicine for veteran who’s dying who’s dying of cancer.  Luke sleeps with a CDC lawyer, who leaks what Laurel thinks is causing the deaths.  Gustav talks to a scientist about the cause of the deaths, she agrees with Gustav at first, then changes her mind. Agent Onofrio tries to make up to Laurel, after she suspects something, and then things get strange.

This was another excellent episode, the right mix of humor, politics, and even a cliffhanger, even though this is not the last episode.  This kind of episode makes the viewer want to tune in for the next episode.  I like most of the characters on this show, Red Wheatus is a bit cartoonish, but I like Tony Shaloub.  I also like Gustav and Rochelle, both the characters and the actors who play them.

Episode 6:

Notes Toward A Post-Reagan Theory of Party Alliance, Tribalist, and Loyalty

Laurel think she might have what is causing the deaths and strange behavior in DC .  She tries some unorthodox ways to get rid of it, does she succeed?  Luke tries to get the Senate to vote on Centers for Disease Control funding, does it?  Laurel notices something strange when she gets ahold of Red Wheatus’ redistricting plan. Rochelle notices something strange while listening to music.

This is another funny episode that uses the dysfunction of DC to prove a larger point.  Any show that can make something as politically arcane as redistricting funny, has a good writing staff. Gustav and Rochelle are hilarious, and they are often in scenes together which makes the scenes  doubly funny.  Laurel and Gareth’s relationship just got a lot stranger. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is excellent and so is Aaron Tvelt. I’m trying to figure out Tony Shaloub’s accent in this show, it’s about as strange as the show.  But the scenes between Shaloub and Winstead are interesting, the closer she gets to solving the mystery of what is plaguing DC.

Episode 7:

The Power of Euphemism

Red Wheatus suspects terrorists are making heads explode.  Gustav and Rochelle discover a new way to track those whose heads might explode. The FBI and CIA want to interrogate Laurel about the deaths.  Luke finds out about the interrogation and tries to stop it.

This episode is a little heavy-handed about enhanced interrogation techniques, and a little too obvious about which side they come down on. But Rochelle and Gustav are still funny, and the audience gets a good look at what’s causing the deaths and weird behavior.  This episode is not as funny as most episodes, but still funnier and better written than most tv shows.

Episode 8:

The Path To War:

Gustav is convinced that Luke and Laurel’s dad, Dean, (Zach Grenier)  is a potential head exploder,  or is he just suffering from Parkinson’s Disease?  Laurel is determined to find out.  Rochelle captures a potential head exploder named Kevin, (Santino Fontana) who adamantly denies that there is anything wrong with him. Red is still convinced terrorists are causing heads to explode, and puts on a Senate hearing to prove it.  Is Dean a head exploder?  Is Kevin a head exploder?  Are terrorists causing the head explosions?

This is a great episode, because there is a complete tone change in the middle of the episode, and it works, drama and comedy co-exist and this episode is proof that both drama and comedy can be done well.  Again, the episode telegraphs its punches, vis a vis terrorism, but other than that, it’s a very well-written episode.   Gustav and Rochelle are my favorite characters, they are like junior detectives, putting together the pieces of this mystery. I like Laurel and Gareth too, but it’s obvious that they are the love interest in the show, Gustav and Rochelle’s relationship is not so obvious, and I like that.

Episode 9:

Taking on Water

Red wants to appoint a special prosecutor to find out who leaked secret Senate testimony.  Red gets his wish, Lawrence Boch (Michael Gaston) is appointed.  Red also has a war room, he wants to start a war in Syria, but when Boch tries to expand the scope of the investigation into Red’s war room, Red sees to it that he doesn’t.  Red also hires Ashley Cook (Tracie Toms) to dig up dirt on Luke and Laurel.  When Gareth hears a rumor about Laurel, what does that do to their relationship?

This was an episode, heavy on politics and not so heavy on comedy.  Somehow, this episode lost that balance between comedy and politics.  There was no Gustav, very little Rochelle, and no head explosions.  Those characters and that plotline is key to the show. It was a funny episode, but not as funny as past episodes.

Episode 10:  The Path to War Part 2:

The Senate is about to vote on the Syrian war resolution, and Luke needs a punchy anti-war ad to get more Senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee to vote against the resolution. Famous documentarian Ben Valderrama  (Michael Zegan) agrees to make the ad But Laurel doesn’t like the ad.  Does she do anything about it? Luke keeps cheating on his wife, Germaine (Lilly Cowles) despite the fact that she’s about to give birth.  Is the baby a head-exploder?  Laurel seems to think so.

Somewhere along the line, this show has lost its sense of humor, and become overtly political, and I don’t like it.  It’s also become about Luke’s sleeping around, a storyline I never cared about and is about as funny as a broken arm.  The writers had a good thing going with Gustav and Rochelle, and dropped it.  The head explosions are gone, Gustav and Rochelle are all but gone, and the laughs are gone with it, too bad.

Episode 11:  Six Points on the Congressional Budget

Red agrees to a bi-partisan budget, and Luke hires Cole Stockwell (Patrick Breen) to report back to him on the details.  Gareth is starting to agree with Laurel on the cause of the head explosions, and the root cause of the problem seems to lie with Red.  Gustav hatches a plan to get inside Red’s office, and try to resolve the problem.  What’s in the budget?  Does Gustav’s plan work?

This was a funnier episode, because Gustav was back, but again the writers get caught in the weeds of the Federal budget for a dark reason, I don’t know why the writers feel like they have to tackle such weighty issues on what is essentially a comedy.  Gareth and Laurel are on the same page which is a good thing.  There is a musical recap at the beginning of every episode, this one stops in the middle, and recaps an episode of Gunsmoke.  The musical recaps are usually fun, but this one is strange.

Episode 12: Talking Points Toward a Wholistic View of Activism in Government

Laurel gets funding to finish her documentary, and think maybe she should leave D.C .  Rochelle, Gustav, and Laurel fight about what to do next.  Red Wheatus starts rambling like a blithering idiot, what’s wrong with him?  Luke is close to finding what’s buried in the bi-partisan budget, and urges Laurel to stay until he’s done.   Gareth asks Laurel to marry her while drunk.  A sword wielding stranger tries to kill Gareth.  Red and Ella Pollack battle for supremacy in Red’s office, who wins?

So many cliffhangers, this must be the second last episode of the season.  It was an enjoyable episode, the writers even stole a tactic from the real congress, which was fun.  Red and Ella fighting is funny, Gustav and Rochelle are funny too.  Will Laurel ever finish that darn documentary?  Funny, political, with the right mix of sci-fi. This episode is what makes this show fun to watch.

Episode 13:  The End of All That We Hold Dear

Laurel has a plan to end the head explosions, so do Gustav and Rochelle.  Does either plan work? Luke ends his sit-in.  Why? Luke and Laurel’s dad is hospitalized.  Will he be ok? The viewers find out what Gustav does for a living.  The viewers finally find out why Red keeps calling Laurel Lana. Laurel and Gareth finally admit something to each other.

This was a good episode, a funny episode, there was even a little satire when Capitol police pull Gustav and Rochelle over.  This episode felt a little rushed, like the writes were hurrying up to tie everything up neatly and put a nice bow on it.  In their rush to end it, the finale ends with a whimper and not a bang.   I liked the show, but there were so many ways to end it, and the writers chose the least interesting. Gustav and Rochelle were still my favorites, but they ended with a whimper too.

Overall I liked the show a lot, it’s very difficult to mix politics, comedy, and science fiction and make something funny that reflects today’s political mood accurately.   Each party not only has their own politicians, but their own networks and that is an atmosphere that’s ripe for satire.  And this show does satirize the politicians and the network shows very accurately.  If you’re political, leave your politics at the door, there are no sacred cows in this show both sides get lampooned here.

The problem is most people have never seen or heard of this show, and part of my job with this blog is to find shows like this and tell you if they are worth watching.  This one definitely is. Some of the episodes do get overtly political, and I criticize those episodes, but over all this is a show worth watching, so watch it and maybe they will bring it back for another season.  It beats the heck out of Zoo and Extant.

I really like the characters, here’s the secret, they made everyone likeable.  Luke is likeable, although he’s a womanizer, Gareth is likeable despite who he works for, Red Wheatus is likeable because he does everything with a twinkle in his eye, and Laurel is likeable because all she wants to do is make a documentary on the music of Melanesian choirs.  Gustav is likeable because he believes every conspiracy he’s heard and now he’s part of one, and Rochelle is likeable because she’s a skeptic and a good foil for Gustav.

The acting is also very good.  Danny Pino plays Senator Luke Healy as a bit of a phony and a publicity hog, but he has a good heart.  Pino handles the comedy well, and is equally adept at the few dramatic scenes. Mary Elizabeth Whitehead is superb as Laurel Healy, she handles the comedy and dramatic scenes well, she has more dramatic scenes then Pino and is believable in them.  She also handles the romantic scenes well with Tveit and Charlie Semnie. I’ve seen her in 10 Cloverfield Lane and she was good in that, the role of Laurel makes me think she is much more versatile than I thought she was.  Tony Shaloub really overplays Red, with a strange accent that sounds like California mixed with a southern dialect, I really don’t know what a Maryland accent sounds like, but I’m pretty sure that aint it.  I liked Shalhoub a lot on Monk, and before that on Wings, he’s just playing it too broadly here.  Aaron Tveit is also very good as Gareth, primarily as a love interest for Whitehead, he is much better in this than in Grease Live, where he tried to play Danny Ziko, a role popularized by John Travolta, and seemed uncomfortable. Johnny Ray Gill made the show enjoyable for me, he was consistently funny, and completely believable as Gustav.  His performance will probably never get noticed at Emmy time, but I noticed him.  The episodes with him were much funnier.  Nikki James was the perfect counterpoint to Gill as Gustav, her Rochelle is serious and grounded and refuses to believe all of Gustav’s conspiracy theories. She was in the Good Wife, and a Broadway actress, much more versatile than this role required, but very enjoyable all the same.

Braindead:  You’ll die laughing.

 

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