Sunday, December 01, 2013

Battleground's comical look at elections


Super Channel 1 - Mondays

Trail Rides

"Battleground" Offers A Comical Look
At The Roller Coaster Of Election Campaigns 

By Eric Kohanik

Election campaigns can be funny things. Just ask J.D. Walsh.

Although Walsh has a solid list of acting credits, including guest stints on TV shows ranging from Two and a Half Men to The Crazy Ones, it was his real-life stint as a campaign worker during John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid that led him to a role as creator/executive producer.

Walsh's brainchild is Battleground, a clever, documentary-style comedy series that made its Canadian debut Nov. 18.

“It was soul-crushing,” Walsh says of his ride on the campaign trail. “There was a guy there who kind of took me under his wing and kind of showed me the ropes of, like, 'This is how the campaign works.' And he knew all this kind of, like, secret stuff. This guy was kind of my window into the world, and what that life is like.”

Battleground spins its fictional yarn around a group of misfits working on an election campaign in Wisconsin. Jay Hayden stars as Chris “Tak” Davis, the campaign manager toiling to get Deirdre Samuels (Meighan Gerachis) elected to the U.S. Senate. The show's ensemble cast includes Jack De Sena as speechwriter Cole Graner, Teri Reeves as media strategist Kara “K.J.” Jamison, Alison Haislip as tech whiz Ali Laurents and Ben Samuel as campaign newbie Ben Werner.

The show's documentary style is reminiscent of such other TV comedies as The Office or Modern Family. But there's a twist to Battleground. It's a series originally made strictly for the Internet.
Battleground was actually the first foray into scripted programming by Hulu, a video-streaming site based in the U.S. The series premiered there last year and was recently picked up by Super Channel for TV viewers across Canada.

A tight, web-oriented budget meant things had to be done quickly. “We wrote all 13 episodes and then shot them as a movie,” reveals Walsh, who puts in cameo appearances as the filmmaker within the show. “Essentially, we shot three movies in a period of eight weeks.”

The tight budget and shooting schedule don't detract from Battleground. It has production values similar to big network TV shows, but its roots as a web series allowed for a freer creative environment.

“It felt very comfortable immediately,” Hayden recalls. “We were able to stretch as actors and really tell the story that J.D. wanted us to tell.”

Haislip echoes the sentiment. “There was an ease and a flow on set that allowed for a lot of creativity,” the actress says. “J.D. actually came up with this brilliant thing. After every single shot set-up, when he got what he wanted, he gave us an 'unusable' take, and that was, 'Do whatever the hell you want. Just go for it.'

“We were able to get these moments of gold because we weren't thinking about the script anymore. We weren't thinking about what we were told to do. We were thinking about how can we make this even more ridiculous and more hilarious. It's amazing how many of those unusable takes actually made it into the show.”

Other distinct features include the show's on-camera interviews with characters, which appear to take place well after the campaign has ended.

“The idea behind it is we wanted to give it time and distance and space,” Walsh explains. “Because that would allow the people who are being interviewed to, occasionally, not remember exactly how it worked, or possibly still be 'spinning it.' And then we would actually see what happens.”

Not everything is played for laughs. Walsh's campaign experience inspired him to tell stories from varied perspectives.

“All of those people just go from campaign to campaign,” he says. “You can't live a life that way. You can't live a real life. So, that's the struggle that you see in this show, with Tak and his wife at home. She wants a real life.

“What we're trying to do on this show is as real as possible … to find out what the day-to-day struggle is like, what the roller coaster is like.”

Battleground – Super Channel 1 – Mondays

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine - December 2013.)