Synopsis: In 2004, the Reel Life documentary team features the Maker's campaign and captures the day that Tak steps out of his father's shadow.
Local landmarks: Much of the episode takes place in various parts of the Memorial Union and Wisconsin Union Theater, with plenty of Bascom Hill (Education, Bascom Hall, Social Sciences, Carillon Tower) scenes along with Humanities, State Street and a shot of the new Chazen Museum (historical blooper: it didn't exist in 2004).
Locals seen on screen: Laura Ramsey, a native of Rosendale, Wisconsin and Laconia High School graduate who was cast in the 2003 "reality" movie The Real Cancun, and has since appeared in The Ruins, Mad Men, and other Hollywood film and television productions; Milwaukee-based actor and playwright John Kishline; playwright and actor Stephen Montagna of Montyland Productions; actor Dave Durban; actor Richard Ganoung, a star of the indie classic Parting Glances, which was screened at the 2008 Wisconsin Film Festival; and, actor and singer Heather Ullsvik, a Milwaukee-based political organizer and consultant with Ullsvik & Associates.
Memorable characters: A pair of pin collectors played by Dave Durbin and Beth Melewski.
Quote of the episode: "This week, we take a look-see at democracy, full-contact campaigning in the heartland..." - Reel Life narrator
Review: The entire episode is framed as "Demo-Crazy '04," itself an episode of the fictional Reel Life, an MTV News-style documentary show from "Global Music Television." The host, a convincingly treacly reporter -- expertly portrayed by Dave Holmes, who actually appeared on MTV in the late '90s -- paces Bascom Hill in a down jacket throughout and frames the footage of the Makers and Thompson campaigns preparing for a debate in the 2004 campaign as a melodrama.
Tak (Jay Hayden) is a young assistant to his dad, D-Day Davis (Ray Wise), who is running the U.S. Senate campaign for Jack Makers (John Kishline), no less bumbling despite being six years younger. Tak's hair is combed forward to affect a more youthful look, but this version of Tak is a little more intense and a little less charming than the current-day version. He's also portrayed as being slightly out of control, chasing skirts, angered easily and using drugs.
Tak has put together a negative ad for the campaign which portrays Makers' opponent, Congressman Thompson, as a philanderer. Thompson is black, and the ad has some racist overtones, which causes Tak's girlfriend, Julie (Laura Ramsey), to confront him. She's another in a line of women who attempt to get Tak to be true to himself instead of working to get the approval of guys like D-Day and Michael Corboy (Matt Corboy). The series' most colorful villain, Corboy gets a lot of screen time in this episode, which won't earn him many fans.
In particular, he shows his chauvinist side by disparaging a young, ambitious Kara Jamison, a.k.a. KJ (Teri Reeves), who shows up as a Thompson staffer along with campaign manager Steve Hilder, played by Madison actor and playwright Stephen Montagna. Makers refuses to prepare for the debate, so Tak and Corboy are forced to try and get the rules changed at the last minute. They succeed in allowing the candidates to use notepads, and D-Day advises them to write bullet points on the third page down for the dimwitted Makers.
But KJ sniffs out the cheat and threatens to pull out, scoring a victory over D-Day, Corboy and Tak.
A goofy little subplot involves Makers misplacing his flag pin. Julie is dispatched to get him a new one and encounters a pin-collecting subculture ("I'm a trader, not a seller") gathered in the theater's lobby (Dave Durbin and Beth Melewski).
Understanding Julie's concern about the commercial, Tak convinces D-Day to give him time to cut another version, but later, at the end of a line of disappointments, he discovers that his dad has gone ahead and aired it anyway. Another betrayal. Young Tak is having a really bad day, and it keeps getting worse.
About at the end of his rope, however, he meets the young Sarah (Kelly O'Sullivan), his future wife.
Battleground, the first original scripted series from Hulu, was shot in Madison by Hollywood filmmaker and former Madisonian JD Walsh. New episodes premiere on Tuesdays through May 8. The dramedy follows young staffers running a Wisconsin politician's underdog campaign for U.S. Senate.
Did you watch the episode? Spot more Madison references or people? Share your thoughts in the comments.