BINGE-R #12: BrainDead + DocPlay Details
Streaming Service: Stan
Availability: All 13 episodes now streaming
Despite being about ant-like alien creatures taking control of humans, BrainDead is the only scripted series that remotely makes sense of politics in Washington D.C. Actually, it’s probably because of the ant-like creatures taking control of humans that it rings true. Either way, this offbeat comic thriller makes partisan politics look no stranger than a parasite pushing out a host’s brain. Set in the Capitol during the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign, the show combines B-movie science-fiction and Daily Show dismay that briskly takes hold once a meteor arrives in Washington just as a Republican shutdown of the federal government begins: left unattended the rock disgorges hordes of tiny extra-terrestrials, intent on finding an open ear in a city of closed minds.
Created by Michelle and Robert King, who must have used every ounce of the credit they derived from The Good Wife to get this concept onto a mainstream network schedule, BrainDead suggests Washington, or its inhabitants, aren’t that different when they’re possessed by bugs. A booze and braces politician such as Republican Senator ‘Red’ Wheatus (Tony Shalhoub) becomes health conscious, but his rhetoric is only a little more extreme; ditto for a Democrat counterpart. The spread is slow – the purposeful aliens can only travel so far – and that allows for a doubtful investigation to begin with Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the daughter of D.C. insiders just started as a staffer to her brother, boyish Democrat Senator Luke Healy (Danny Pino).
The inducted have glassy smiles, cheery extremism and an affinity for The Cars’ 1980s hit “You Might Think” (makes sense: Ric Ocasek always did look like he came from another planet). The disbelief about what is happening is met with blithe banter, particularly between Laurel and Red’s staffer Gareth Ritter (Aaron Tveit), whose verbal sparring takes in D.C. anachronisms such as the Tax Prom, a party thrown by lobbyists where the two double deal and dance. The ritualistic divide between the parties, chronicled by faux Fox News and MSNBC commentaries, means that issues such as immigration or gun control aren’t explored, but the hiccups in brain possession are explicit. Heads really do explode in BrainDead, complete with a gore hound’s gush of blood and brains.
The series is one and done – it’s been cancelled – but there’s a lot to like about it, including Winstead’s whip smart demeanour and the sly jabs at The West Wing. The aliens’ goal, if they have one, isn’t immediately clear, and likewise just when you think BrainDead has become too serious it knocks you off balance with a loopy observation or coolly shot sequence of invasive horror. Given that no-one knows what’s in Donald Trump’s head, this enjoyably weird offering is as good a show as any to welcome the 45th President of the United States.
>> Bonus Binge: If you want your politics with less aliens and more expletives, Netflix has all four sardonic seasons of The Thick of It, the scathingly influential British comedy.
As the streaming market widens there are going to be opportunities for specialist services, and the just launched DocPlay is one of them. Reflecting the growth in production, dissemination, and audience interest for non-fiction filmmaking, DocPlay has been launched by Madman Entertainment, an Australian distributor whose eclectic catalogue has long released documentaries through specialty cinemas and DVD shelves. You need to sign in for an account, but from there you can choose to watch for free – with advertisements – a limited selection of titles, or subscribe after a 30 day trial for complete access at the cost of $6.95 per month or $69.95 for a year. The free titles refresh regularly, but there’s no guarantee every documentary will appear in the allotment.
DocPlay currently has 150 documentary features available, aiming for 300 and the inclusion of episodic documentary series by the middle of this year. If you haven’t kept up with the documentary boom over the last 15 years then there are a lot of notable titles to catch up with, particularly from American directors (it’s unfortunate that you can’t search by a director’s name to assess an Alex Gibney or Frederick Wiseman’s presence). Dedicated doco followers may desire a greater diversity, but for now a mix of Academy Award nominees and film festival titles is a solid start. If you want to pursue DocPlay, here are five movies worth watching:
1 – The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012): Stunning in its recasting of institutional murder in 1960s Indonesia.
2 – Autoluminescent (Lynn-Maree Milburn & Richard Lowenstein, 2011): A fascinating journey through the life of revered Australian cult musician Rowland S. Howard.
3 – Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (Alex Gibney, 2014): A coruscating study of the Church of Scientology.
4 – Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994): An epic American saga of race, ambition and loss seen through the lens of two teenage basketball prodigies.
5 – Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Ricki Stern & Annie Sundberg, 2009): The late comic’s ground-breaking career and insatiable drive inform a telling portrait.
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