Honestly, based on the pilot, Brain Dead seems like the outcome of some weird government-funded experiment in broadcast television.
If a bunch of science types fed an AI with episodes of Scandal and The West Wing along with the 1970’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and some Theodore Sturgeon stories and then told it to come up with a network show; the nascent machine intelligence would probably create something like CBS’s Brain Dead.
The first episode barely introduces our heroine Laurel, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverdale Lane, Mercy Street, Live Free or Die Hard), before a meteorite slams into a Russian pond, is retrieved and shipped to the Smithsonian via Winstead’s U.S. Senator brother (Danny Pino).
As Winstead investigates complaints from her brother’s constituents, she begins to notice that folks around Washington D.C. are acting stranger than normal and that 80’s pop band The Cars are apparently all the rage again. I won’t spoil too much but you probably guessed that the space rock has something to do with the growing weirdness on Capitol Hill.
The show also features subtle comic genius Tony Shalhoub and the creators of the The Good Wife are behind the camera and in the writers’ room.
Most of the early coverage on Brain Dead focused on the show’s failure as a biting political farce. They are right as far as that goes. Brain Dead takes a “fair and balanced” view of the U.S. government by positing that everyone in charge is just awful and selfish and uncaring. It doesn’t take sides which some reviewers believe makes it a toothless satire.
Those judging the show on politics alone are missing the true success here. Having struggled through summer after summer of overly dramatic and emotionally somber shows like Under the Dome, Extant and Zoo, CBS has hit on an under served sweet spot in genre television. They finally brought viewers a light and pretty funny science fiction show.
Brain Dead isn’t going to win any Saturn Awards and it probably won’t move the needle for summer television ratings, but the goofy little invaders are a welcome change from all the dreary, death-filled, post-apocalyptic, “Capital-D” Dramas that currently dominate genre television.
Brain Dead airs Monday’s at 10 PM on CBS.