Ben Werner (Ben Samuel)
Synopsis: Campaign manager Tak Davis and his team must figure out how to get their rivals to show up to a crucial debate.
Local references: Sly in the Morning, Bucky Badger, UW-Madison students, the Wisconsin State Fair.
Local landmarks: Lake Monona, John Nolen Drive, Monroe Street, West Washington Avenue, the Capitol, WKOW studios, Electric Earth Café.
Locals seen onscreen: WKOW anchors Greg Jeschke and Sabrina Hall.
Memorable character: Ben Werner, a nerdy volunteer who shows up at the campaign office with a reference from his previous job at a Renaissance fair. When Ben screws up during his first day on duty, the campaign manager punishes him by making him speak to everyone in Renaissance English: "A thousand pardons!"
Review: A new online series from Hulu, Battleground proves itself worthy of comparison to The Office, Parks and Recreation and other sophisticated modern sitcoms. It's another droll one-camera workplace dramedy shot on film, with a faux documentary conceit. You may feel like you've seen one too many of those, but Battleground distinguishes itself with strong writing and acting, not to mention a distinctive setting. We're inside in a Madison campaign office, where a group of political veterans and newbies manage Deirdre Samuels' underdog run for U.S. Senate.
Tak Davis (Jay Hayden) is the cunning campaign manager; KJ Jameson (Teri Reeves) the formidable head of media strategy; Ben Werner (Ben Samuel) the overeager rookie; and Jordan Mosely (Jordan Maxwell) the beefy bozo with a farcical sense of self-importance. The characters freak out over daily setbacks and luxuriate in daily triumphs, all while teasing and romancing each other to pass the time.
In this series premiere, the campaign is running out of money. The staff desperately needs Samuels to debate opponent Jack Makers to put her on the map, but Makers has pulled out of that night's scheduled event. To save the day, Tak leads a delegation into the Capitol for a meeting/chess match with Makers' campaign staff. His strategy: make it seem like Samuels has lost her voice and decided not to debate after all. Makers' people take the bait and bring their candidate to the debate location -- the WKOW studios -- to suggest that Samuels has chickened out. Instead, Samuels materializes and wins the debate, allowing her staff to toast their genius over beers at the Electric Earth Café.
Writer/executive producer JD Walsh, a Madison native, clearly knows his setting. He shot the series here in October and November, and he piles on the local references, including Sly, Monroe Street, Wingra Park, West Washington Avenue, Lake Monona and the Badgers. The outdoor scenes are bathed in Madison's beautiful fall light -- something that would have been very hard to fake in a Hollywood studio.
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.