February 24, 2020

‘Good Wife’ creator Michelle King satirizes D.C. politics in ‘BrainDead’

The acclaimed drama “The Good Wife” ended its seven-season run May 8, and Michelle King, who created, wrote and produced the series with her husband, Robert, is already missing it. 

“It’s bittersweet. It’s sad to say goodbye to these characters,” she said. “I’ve read stories in the newspaper or heard things and thought, ‘There’s an episode in that,’ and then realized [there were no more]. But we feel a lot of gratitude that we were allowed to end the show how and at the time we wanted.”

The Kings have already moved on to another series for CBS, a satire of Washington, D.C., politics with a science-fiction twist, playfully titled “BrainDead.”

“It’s an effort to explain all the craziness that’s going on in D.C. right now, which, as far as we’re concerned, can only be explained by bugs from outer space crawling into politicians’ ears,” King said. “It has some shocks and scares and a lot of humor, and also a romance and some real characters at the center of it.”

The heroine is Laurel Healy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead of “Mercy Street”), the daughter of a Democratic political dynasty who left Washington to make documentaries in Los Angeles. As the series begins, she has returned to the nation’s capital because her brother (Danny Pino), a Maryland senator, has asked her to run his office. 

When the alien ear-invaders attack, they make their victims on both ends of the political spectrum more fanatical and extreme than ever. “There are no more moderates left. D.C. stops and nothing gets accomplished. So our heroes have to work together across the aisle,” King said.

If that scenario sounds reminiscent of current election year divisiveness, it’s purely coincidental. The Kings sold the series to CBS in fall 2013. Their inspiration was the fiscal crisis that shut down the federal government at that time. 

“There was a lot of unexplained craziness,” King said. “We really like politics, but to just do a straight political show, our concern was that it would veer toward the earnest, and that was not what we wanted. So this was a way to tell the story with a bit more fun.”

The series is shot in Brooklyn, N.Y., with additional exterior locations in Washington, D.C. It has an initial 13-episode order, which King finds a lot more manageable than the 22 “Good Wife” episodes produced each year.

Although there were Jewish characters in “The Good Wife,” including Eli Gold (Alan Cumming) and his daughter Marissa (Sarah Steele), there are none in the first season of “BrainDead.” But that could change in the future.

When asked whether being Jewish influences her writing, King said: “That’s like asking if being left-handed or green-eyed influences my writing. It’s so intrinsic to who I am as a person. It’s really hard to parse it out.”

There are Holocaust survivors on both sides of King’s family. “My mother’s family was underground in Holland and my father’s family kept moving from country to country after they left Germany in 1933,” she said. “They kept being displaced. They made it to the United States in 1940.”

Today, she is “acutely culturally identifying” with Judaism. Robert, her husband of 29 years, is Catholic, and the difference in faiths has never been an issue for them. “It’s worked out far more seamlessly than I could have hoped,” King said. Their 16-year-old daughter “is being raised with both traditions and is fluent in both.”

Collaborating so closely with her spouse is similarly seamless. “We never really try to separate the two,” she said of work and home life. “It flows naturally.”

King is proud that she and Robert “tried as hard as we could with ‘Good Wife,’ and we never settled. We really put our utmost into it,” she said, adding that she hopes to continue writing and creating quality shows for television. On her future slate: a “Good Wife” spinoff for CBS All Access, the network’s subscription-based video-on-demand and streaming service. Christine Baranski and Cush Jumbo will star.

And what is King’s proudest personal accomplishment? She didn’t hesitate to answer. “The friends and family that I’ve been lucky enough to keep around me.” 

“BrainDead” premieres at 10 p.m. June 13 on CBS.