The CBS series BrainDead, which aired last summer, is a bizarre mashup of gross-out horror, screwball comedy, and political satire. The show was created by Robert and Michelle King, fresh off their success with The Good Wife. Science fiction editor John Joseph Adams believes that only the incredible success of that show can explain the existence of something as quirky and uncommercial as BrainDead.
“It’s like when Peter Jackson made Lord of the Rings,” Adams says in Episode 239 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “Then of course they’re like, ‘Sure, you can remake King Kong. Do whatever you want.’ In his case he went mad with power, but in this case I think they did something great.”
BrainDead was quickly canceled by CBS, which is a shame because a show about alien parasites who cause politicians to act petty and childish has come to seem increasingly relevant in the era of President Trump. Fantasy author Erin Lindsey thinks the show suffered in comparison to real-life absurdity.
“In terms of the behavior of the politicians, there was no huge difference between how ridiculous these [characters] were behaving and the way people are actually behaving in the political space right now,” she says.
Horror author Grady Hendrix thinks the show should have been more conventionally structured and more grounded in reality. Playing by the rules may seem boring, he says, but you ignore them at your peril.
“Those limitations make a show richer and help it fulfill its potential,” he says, “the same way the rules that we’re suddenly seeing a lack of made politics work better.”
But Lindsey feels the show was doomed simply by virtue of unfolding against the backdrop of the 2016 election.
“They were going up against the biggest mesmerizing car crash in television history,” she says. “I just don’t think anybody could compete with that.”
Listen to our complete interview with John Joseph Adams, Erin Lindsey, and Grady Hendrix in Episode 239 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Grady Hendrix on mocking liberals:
“This is one of the few times I’ve seen people make fun of liberals as much as conservatives and have it actually be funny. I thought it was so on the nose with their mockery of the left wing. … You know, the really young, virile congressman with the unbottoned jacket and his hands on his hips who can’t keep his dick in his pants, that’s such a left-wing stereotype. And the same with Laurel, that wishy-washy, ‘I don’t know what I want from life, and one moment I want to make a documentary, and the next I want to change the world, and maybe I just want a martini.’ And the bearded shlub with the Napoleon complex who speaks this big social justice message and then takes credit for everyone else’s work. They were so great with that stuff.”
Erin Lindsey on believability:
“As a UN person–and a person who’s been to Capitol Hill and that kind of stuff–it was driving me bananas that everyone could just saunter in and saunter out. Nobody looks at their pass, there’s no pat-down, there’s no dogs, there’s no metal detectors. I mean, good lord, people. Never. … So Gustav and Rochelle can just rock up at will, and that was the thing that was bothering me the most. … At the United Nations, whether it’s in Nairobi or Geneva or New York, you can’t even get on the property, let alone in the building, let alone in someone’s office. There’s a whole rigmarole you have to go through when you work there, let alone if you don’t work there.”
John Joseph Adams on popularity:
“I’ve encountered this sort of thing before, where I discover a piece of entertainment and I’m like, ‘This is so good, I don’t understand how anyone actually put money behind it thinking it was going to achieve mass acceptance,’ because it’s so good and so interesting and so different from anything else that I’ve seen that it doesn’t make sense that it got money to actually even exist in the first place. And I always hope that when we encounter things like that we’ll be proven wrong, and that it will become popular. Because I can think of cases where it worked. … But it seems like most of what’s really popular just achieves a certain level of basic success but is ultimately mostly mediocre. So it’s disappointing that something like this couldn’t have found a bigger audience.”
David Barr Kirtley on corruption:
“I watched an interview with the showrunners, and it came up in this that they have the opposite philosophy as the writers of Veep. The writers of BrainDead feel that corruption isn’t the problem, [ideological] purity is the problem, whereas they were saying that Veep is the opposite. I’m more with Veep, although I haven’t seen the show. And I think that’s one of my problems with this show, I guess–another one–is that I feel like it doesn’t really address the role of corruption in the dysfunction of government. It makes it seem as if people’s deeply held political views are the problem, whereas really the problem is money. You can’t have a political satire of Washington that doesn’t acknowledge how many of the problems come out of people spending money to influence what happens there.”