Michelle King and Robert King, who created and ran "The Good Wife" until its self-scheduled departure from the airwaves last month, are already back with a new series, "BrainDead." Premiering Monday, it's a sci-fi horror comedy-drama in which bugs from space infest the brains of Washington, D.C., insiders (and others). Ridley Scott, who made his reputation in sci-fi, is again the Kings' executive producer; CBS, which likes to put genre series on its summer schedule ("Extant," "Under the Dome," "Zoo"), is again their network.
Sometimes, the heads that the bugs infest explode. That this might be a metaphor for the feeling of watching the presidential race is preemptively made clear by an opening title: "In 2016 there was a growing sense that people were losing their minds. And no one knew why … until now."
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who has genre cred to spare ("10 Cloverfield Lane," "The Ring Two," "Scott Pilgrm vs. the World"), stars as Laurel Healy, a struggling documentary filmmaker whom fate makes a reluctant assistant to her senator brother, Democratic whip Luke (Danny Pino), just as a budget brouhaha is about to shut down the government.
Thrown into a world in which she proves immediately capable, Laurel is the series' Alicia Florrick, and also its Nancy Drew; she senses that something is eating the capital, and not just figuratively, and (with Johnny Ray Gill's appealingly eccentric street genius) sets out to investigate. Like Alicia, she also has attracted the romantic interest of two men, Republican operative Gareth (Aaron Tveit) and FBI agent Anthony (Charlie Semine).
FOR THE RECORD
June 13, 2016, 7:15 a.m.: An earlier version of this article said Ronald Reagan has not been president since January 1988. He was president until January 1989.
While it's too early to tell what long game these bugs (or their masters) might be playing, even after three episodes, they do give their victims a distaste for alcohol, a taste for the Cars' song "You Might Think" – next words "I'm crazy" – and a chill, chilly, chilling sense of purpose; it turns Tony Shalhoub's Republican senator from a cynical drunk to a clear-eyed, power-hungry powerhouse: "There aren't 100 different ways to get what we want," he says. "There's only one way: our way." Infected left-leaners, meanwhile, spout statistics about Danish bicycles (lots) and Finnish gun deaths (few).
I have no idea how closely "The Good Wife" represented the actual life of the law – it seemed a little crazy to me, frankly, even when it wasn't meant to be – and the Kings' Washington, D.C., though doubtless shaped by at least a little research, or anyway some conversations, hardly seems credible: For all the specific political references and the incorporation of actual clips from Campaign 2016 – Trump and Clinton sound bites dot the soundtrack – it's a sci-fi flick capital.
If the series is too schematic and too noncommittal to really function as satire, that doesn't matter much; it's fun – "The Good Wife" was always the best at its funnest – and Winstead has just the right mix of innocence, intelligence, idealism and pluck for the job. And it functions capably as a monster movie: a classic "Body Snatchers" scenario, in which the converted become the agents of further conversions, it's creepy and suspenseful in the usual, popular ways.
The premise has the air of something thought up over drinks – "Washington's so crazy, it's like they're being controlled by aliens or something" – and developed on a cocktail napkin. And it would be nice to lay our polarized politics at the feet of aliens (or whatever they have instead of feet). But 2016 is not the year Washington lost its mind. "BrainDead" tells us that once upon a time, "Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill were drinking buddies," but Reagan has not been president since January 1989. This madness is not new.
When: 9:59 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-DLV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence)