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Series / BrainDead (2016)

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BrainDead is a satirical sci-fi/horror/political thriller/dramedy series created by Robert and Michelle King (The Good Wife) and executive produced by Ridley Scott. It premiered on CBS in the summer of 2016.

Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) comes from a family of politicians, but she couldn't care less about politics and is more interested in her career as an aspiring documentary filmmaker. But when funding for her newest project goes south, her father offers to pony up $200,000 to her on the condition that she takes a six-month job in the office of her brother, Senator Luke Healy (Danny Pino).

But things get bizarre when a meteor is discovered in Russia and is sent to the United States, because this meteor actually houses a large colony of ant-like aliens who seem to have a penchant for both relieving important people like Senator Red Wheatus (Tony Shalhoub) of their brains and taking control and setting the brains of others to explode, lest they get too suspicious of the Space Bugs' plot.

Slowly, but surely finding out the truth, Laurel finds herself going to war against this extremely pesky Alien Invasion, with the fate of the U.S. government and pretty much the rest of America hanging in the balance. Can she do it without literally losing her head, be it by hijacking or straight-up exploding?

Has absolutely NOTHING to do with the Peter Jackson movie of the same name.

Sadly, it was canceled after one season, though the plot was left largely wrapped up, albeit open for more.

The series has examples of the following tropes:

  • Alien Invasion: The premise of the show is that alien bugs from the Constellation Draco are trying to take over the US Government.
  • As Himself: Jonathan Coulton and Michael Moore have both made cameo appearances, with Moore's appearance actually being a minor plot point.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Gareth and Laurel are on opposite sides of Capitol politics and are not above using each other. It doesn't stop them from flirting all the time.
  • Berserk Button: Luke looks like he's ready to punch out Red's lights when the latter accuses him of using a photograph of the niece of a war veteran as leverage to advance an alleged presidential campaign. In short, don't accuse him of trying to help people for his own personal gain.
  • Big Bad: The Space Bugs. Also Senator Red Wheatus, who opposes all attempts by Luke to get the government back to work and plays host to a bug queen.
  • Black Comedy: The humor on the show relies on some gags that are pretty dark.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Gustav mentions this to Rochelle when Laurel gets infected by the bugs, lampshading that Rochelle's father was the first, whose head exploded.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents:
    • Laurel when the lead scientist who discovered the space bugs gets his brain blown up by them.
    • Red plants bugs in the head of one of his interns, then gets his head to explode during a workout session (with Red and the head of the FBI in the splash zone) in order to force a hearing on bioterrorism and cover up the bugs' plot.
  • Bluff the Imposter: Luke is able to confirm the CIA director is a bug host in this way. Laurel finds out that the bugs are conspiring to build hothouses for cherry blossoms, which they use to reproduce. Luke goes to the CIA director, asks about the hothouses, and the director says that they're looking into it. Then Luke asks the director if he's aware that the bugs are infiltrating water supplies, and the director says yes, when that's a complete lie.
  • Brand X: Laurel's anti-war video is posted to a website called "Viewers At Home," which is clearly a YouTube page with a different logo.
  • Crop Circles: The Space Bugs manage to pull this off by aggressively gerrymandering.
  • Dating Catwoman: Laurel and Gareth Ritter have a staffers' variant of this as she's a staffer for a Democrat and he's a Chief of Staff for a Republican.
  • Divide and Conquer: When they get the bug-infested Kevin forcibly drunk so he'll be truthful, he explains the bugs make people become more extreme in their views so they'll fight each other to a greater degree, and make it easier for them to conquer humanity.
  • Ear Worm: "You Might Think" by The Cars. Anyone who has bugs crawl inside their ear becomes obsessed with the song as it sounds like the frequency of the bugs' home planet.
  • Expy: A few characters seem to be expies of characters from the series creators' previous series, The Good Wife:
    • Laurel and Gareth bear striking similarities to Alicia and Will (minus the two decades of emotional baggage). Laurel is the heroine with a dry sense of humor and a soft spot for the voiceless who hates politics but is actually not half bad at them when her family sucks her in. Gareth is the vaguely amoral power player with a streak of romantic idealism that clashes with his ambition and pragmatism-but with a good heart underneath it all.
    • Rochelle is similar to Lucca, as the professional partner-turned-best friend to the heroine, highly intelligent and capable, very kind and one of the only people whom the protagonist genuinely trusts.
    • Although Luke is Laurel's brother, where Peter was Alicia's husband, both men are family members who drag the heroine into the political world, who are wildly ambitious and manipulative, and whose extramarital affairs cause no end of trouble for all parties involved.
  • Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: Laurel is almost subjected to this under an 'Appendix Q' scenario. Luke is able to stop it by hauling the FBI director before an impromptu subcommittee hearing.
  • Fake-Out Make-Out: When Laurel comments that they were "seen together" at the Tax Prom and are probably still being watched, Gareth suggests they give everyone something to really talk about. A "fake" kiss ensues-with a few giggles-and promptly becomes a little too real.
  • Funny Background Event: One of the symptoms of bug infestation is losing one's sense of balance. In the background of scenes, one can see infected Republicans stumble to the right and Democrats to the left.
  • Genre-Busting: The show's a Sci-Fi-Horror-Political Thriller-Dramedy.
  • Grammar Nazi: People hijacked by the space bugs have been shown to be this.
  • Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee: Luke hauls the FBI director before an impromptu Intelligence committee hearing to stop Laurel from being subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques for information on alleged terrorism.
  • Hope Spot: At the end of episode 11, the CIA briefs Luke on the bug situation and asks him to get Laurel and her friends to sit back and let the CIA handle it. Then after Luke leaves, Red Wheatus shows up, making it clear that this is a bug plot to get the only people who are fighting back to give up.
  • The Horseshoe Effect: Jules (an extreme right-winger) and Noah (an extreme leftist) actually get into a road rage incident over their opposing views, but are persuaded by Red and Ella to ally later because they both agree on so much (never compromising, going to war in Syria, etc.).
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The name of each episode sounds like it could be the title of a book written by a political pundit ("Wake Up Grassroots: The Nine Virtues of Participatory Democracy, and How We Can Keep America Great by Encouraging an Informed Electorate," "The Power of Euphemism: How Torture Became a Matter of Debate in American Politics," etc.)
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Red ends up scooping up some of the special prosecutor's brains after he shoots him to... "save for later" in the office fridge.
    Recap Song: Important note to self: remind me not to use Red's Tupperware.
    • Eating Ella's brain after shooting her is also what restores Red and his Bug Queen to fighting trim after spending much of "Talking Points" deathly ill.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Lampshaded, of the pet variety, when a cat is infected with the space bugs.
    "My God, you monsters, not the cat!"
  • Intimate Healing: Laurel tries a number of things to get the bugs out of her head, until finally having sex with Gareth does it.
  • Irony: When Red and Ella are racing to stop the vote which would suspend the government shutdown, they come to get on the Capitol Hill subway... only to find it's closed due to said government shutdown.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: The "enhanced interrogation techniques" the FBI almost uses on Laurel, such as immersion (which is not waterboarding, as it uses slightly less water). Jack Bauer himself is name-dropped in support during the Senate committee debate on the issue, in a reference to the late US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia doing this (which is also mentioned).
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration:
    • To get into Red's top secret war room S.R.B. 54, Gareth has an IT friend knock out the WiFi for that room, then is able to go into the room on the pretense of resetting the system.
    • Gustav and Rochelle manage to get into one of the greenhouses that Red is having constructed by stealing his I.D. card and having Gustav pretend to be him. Unfortunately, Anthony is on-site as well, foiling their plan.
  • Left the Background Music On: The season finale starts with Coulton singing a quick recap of the previous episode in front of the brownstone where our protagonists are holed up. We then cut to inside, where they are having a conversation, and eventually get irritated enough by Coulton's guitar-playing that they go to the window to shoo him out.
  • Leitmotif: "You Might Think" by The Cars is the Space Bugs' theme. There's a good reason for this. Slow the song down by 16x, and it matches the sound of background radiation from the Draco constellation - a fact that turns Rochelle onto believing the bugs are extraterrestrial.
  • Locked Out of the Loop:
    • Luke spends most of the first season blissfully unaware that his sister is fighting an Alien Invasion.
    • Gareth spends almost as long in the dark, despite being in close proximity to the actual Bug Queen inside Red's head.
  • Meaningful Name: Red Wheatus is a senator with the Republican Party, whose main color is red.
  • More than Mind Control: A bug-infested Anthony is able to get an entire group of government operatives to go along with waterboarding Laurel. Because of their Just Following Orders mindset, the bugs didn't have to take control of any of them.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: The space bugs are so far shown to be immune towards bug sprays and while squishing them may render them immobilized, they seem to have a surprisingly good knowledge of bug CPR. The Bug Queen resists quite a beating from Laurel but she is done in an episode later by being stepped on by a rather large man.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Senator Chuck Hodges may be one to John McCain. He's a Republican and war hero who opposes torture, but unlike McCain isn't willing to vote against it.
    • Claudia Monarch is a short-haired, suit-wearing liberal talk show host, just like Rachel Maddow.
    • Misty Alise is clearly meant to be the equivalent of Megyn Kelly.
  • Not Right in the Bed: One early symptom of Space Bug infestation is an aversion to sex, exemplified by Luke's mistress, Scarlett, suddenly losing interest in doing it with him.
  • People Puppets: What the people who are getting hijacked by the space bugs end up becoming.
  • Previously onů: In a unique variant, a disturbingly upbeat song recaps the events of the previous episode. What's more, these songs are written and sung by Jonathan Coulton, better known to video gamers as the man behind "Still Alive" and "Want You Gone". In episode 11, Coulton starts to do the recap song, but gets stressed out trying to sum up the events of Braindead and instead does a recap for Gunsmoke.
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: The bugs have Abby kill herself rather than be taken into custody by Anthony to get examined.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Luke has vices, but is actually a legitimately nice person who tries to get legislation through that will benefit as many people as possible. Key among these is when he pulls a massive Indy Ploy and undoes the government shutdown, throwing a serious wrench in the space bugs' plans.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: It turns out that shaming a person is another method of getting the bugs out of their head.
  • Red Shirt: Wheatus keeps killing and disappearing his interns when they Know Too Much. In Episode 11 he makes this a joke, remarking that Gary-the-latest-Intern surely doesn't believe the rumor about his interns all dying horribly.
  • Sequel Hook: In the final moments of the first season finale Luke is shown to have taken a job in Wall Street and asked Laurel to come work for him there for a while, while what looks like a new Bug Queen flies by.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In episode 10, Red appears to do a Frank Underwood-esque aside glance to the camera during a conversation with two constituents.
    • The fantasized sex scene between Laurel and Michael Moore that Garrett imagines is a shot-by-shot recreation of a sex scene from Eyes Wide Shut.
    • There's plenty of references made to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), whose story is a major influence on this show and writers. Most notably, in that movie, there's a scene where Matthew Bennell is having dinner with Elizabeth Driscoll (played by Brooke Adams) and says "Do that thing with your eyes. If you do that thing with your eyes I'll know you're still you." In BrainDead, Adams plays Senator Vaynerchuk, who does "that thing," where she vibrates/rotates her eyes.
  • Side Effects Include...: The recap for episode 8 is done in the style of a commercial for 'Space Bugs':
    Some people with Space Bugs in their heads experience stumbling, loss of balance, or loss of hearing in one ear. This is normal, since part of your brain needs to come out somewhere. Some people with Space Bugs report an aversion to sex and also alcohol, plus an interest in vegetables, vegetable juices and the curative properties of juicing in general.
  • Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror: The tone is kind of all over the place in this department. On the one hand, there's the Kings' trademark absurd humor taken up to eleven (musical recaps, anyone?), and the satirical tone of the series means that ridiculous situations and quips come in a quick succession. On the other hand, heads explode on a regular basis without much for a Gory Discretion Shot, people's brains literally fall out their ears, and space bugs crawl around enough to make anyone paranoid.
  • Stock Footage: Most of the footage of the meteor hitting Earth is a variety of online videos of the Chelyabinsk meteor of February 15, 2013.
  • Torture Technician: Agent J. K. Cornish is a mild examples. He's cheerful (which at first makes it all the creepier) reluctant to use "enhanced interrogation techniques" and happily lets Laurel go when the authorization doesn't go through. He also admits he's been through all of them in his training, which probably helps his reluctance. Still, he believes they're necessary at times.
  • Trademark Favorite Food:
    • The bugs reside within the cherry blossoms that are very common around Washington DC.
    • Infected people are quite fond of vegetable juice smoothies and raw veggies.
    • Old-Fashioneds are apparently the drink of choice in D.C., especially with Gareth and Laurel.
  • Truth in Television:
    • At one point, Red Wheatus brings up the fact that the CDC published a comic about how to handle a zombie apocalypse as an indicator of how the CDC is wasting its money. The comic actually exists and is allegorical for preparing for a disaster such as a tropical storm.
    • At the end of the series, Red survives with only half of a brain, the bugs having eaten the other half. It is completely possible for a human being to survive with only one hemisphere of their brain, and in fact, it's a necessary surgery at times to treat extreme forms of epilepsy. However, the procedure, called a hemispherectomy, is almost exclusively performed in children, because their brains are more easily able to adapt as they're still growing, taking up functions from the missing half. Otherwise, this leads to very serious dysfunction (as you'd expect), with a person essentially having two minds in their head (but of course that's when both parts remain there).
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Only in the finale is it revealed that Gustav is a Senior Intelligence Officer at the NSA.
  • Villainous BSoD: After the bug queen is wounded during Laurel's first attempt to kill it, Red Wheatus finds himself going through one, spending long periods of time in pain on his office couch, and unable to think straight when in committee hearings.
  • Wham Shot:
    • The end of Episode 5. The bugs, having been hiding in the bouquet of cherry blossoms Anthony gave Laurel, crawl out of it, onto her bed, and into her ear. The last shot of the episode is Laurel waking up suddenly...
    • Another one occurs (atypically) at the beginning of the episode "The Power of Euphemism, etc." We see a bug exiting Red's ear, but it's not tiny like an ant. It's the size of a wasp. Red has the Queen bug living in his head.
    • 1x09 "Taking on Water" features a special prosecutor tasked with investigating the leak of an intelligence report. When the special prosecutor expands his scope to investigate Red's plan to build internment camps, the target pulls out a gun and shoots him.
    • 1x11 "Six Points on the New Congressional Budget" has a subplot in which Luke is vetted to become the new director of the CIA. At the end of the episode, he receives a briefing that indicates the CIA is aware of the space bug invasion, and is told to tell Laurel and her friends to stand down. He leaves the briefing...and the CIA director and Red watch him from a balcony, saying he bought it, showing that it was another plot by the bugs. Plus, now we know the CIA director has been infected too.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Season 1 concludes with Jonathan Coulton narrating an epilogue surrounding many of the major players of the season:
  • Your Head A-Splode: What happens to anyone whom the space bugs believe may know too much or might get in the way of their plans.

Alternative Title(s): Brain Dead