‘BrainDead’ shines satirical light on bugs in our political system

Sen. Healy (Danny Pino) needs his sister Laurel (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help him on Capitol Hill in BrainDead.
Sen. Healy (Danny Pino) needs his sister Laurel (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help him on Capitol Hill in BrainDead. CBS

Thanks to BrainDead, a new TV series about the political creatures who inhabit Washington, D.C., we now officially know why the government doesn’t work the way it should.

The people there are bug nuts!

In BrainDead, a satirical thriller that premieres at 9 p.m. Monday on CBS, nasty insects are literally eating the brains of our public servants. Can Laurel Healy, the sister of and aide to Sen. Luke Healy of Maryland, thwart the infestation that’s creating governmental gridlock?

This is a show that slyly comments on a problem that frustrates us all, yet it does so with such an outlandish premise that the subject becomes more entertaining than infuriating.

“I think in a lot of ways, this is a more palatable explanation as to why Washington is the way it is, as opposed to what is actually transpiring,” says Danny Pino, who plays Healy, the powerful Democrat whip. “If this could be the reason, at least we’d have a diagnosis for what’s happening.

“And maybe — MAYBE — we’d even be able to find a remedy.”

Laurel, the aide who’s enough of a Beltway outsider to recognize the problem while the insiders can’t, is played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The actress made a name for herself as the “scream queen” in such horror movies as Final Destination 3, Black Christmas and The Thing.

BrainDead also stars Tony Shalhoub (of Monk and Wings fame) as Red Wheatus, the most powerful Republican in the Senate, and Aaron Tveit (Grease: Live) as Wheatus’ top aide and Laurel’s unlikely across-the-aisle friend and ally.

Pino — who’s best known for crime procedurals: Cold Case (2003-2010) and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2011-2015) — leaped at the opportunity to work in a show that’s “so different, so current, so timely and so complex.”

“There is no simple way of describing this show,” he says. “The tone shifts from scene to scene, sometimes even from line to line.”

Pino is convinced that most politicians go to Washington with noble intentions.

“Like Luke Healy, they become public servants because they want to make a difference,” he says. “They saw things that were wrong, things that they could potentially fix, and they had a certain set of skills, socially, politically, intellectually, to get people behind them.

“But then something happens during the first few years in any elected office, with the people’s business becoming secondary to party business and the campaign to hold your seat and the need to raise money and issues about who slighted who and how can I get that person back in retribution?

“Before long, noble intentions are corrupted very quickly. That’s what this show is talking about.”

But the political discourse is thinly disguised as a creepy creature feature — and the show works on that level as well. It will make your skin crawl when you see an army of little critters attack in the night.

“You’ll want to start sleeping with cotton balls stuffed in your ears,” Pino says.

Pino, 42, is a Miami native who spent the summer of 1998 performing with the Texas Shakespeare Festival in Kilgore, about 120 miles east of Dallas. He still remembers Texans with fondness, especially “how patient they were when I kept two-stepping in the wrong direction.”

After more than a decade of playing serious-minded police detectives, he finds it “refreshing to play a different kind of role and to break free from the trappings of the procedural cop drama.”

He was ready to lighten up after a steady diet of TV murders and sex crimes.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Pino says. “I’m incredibly proud to count myself as an alum of both Cold Case and Law & Order. But I was ready to shift gears.

“I was ready to find a new means of expression, to find a new character with a new set of issues and ambiguities and challenges, and to set that within fertile soil that was unpredictable and fresh.

“Essentially, I was looking for BrainDead even before I knew BrainDead existed.”


  • 9 p.m. Monday
  • KTVT/Channel 11