TV Review: ‘The Strain’

The Strain TV Review

FX is so steeped in brooding drama, the comicbook-y roots of “The Strain” feel mildly off brand, but also like a breath of fresh air. While there’s not much new to be done with the vampire genre, director Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s adaptation of their book/graphic novel plays like perfect summer popcorn fare, filtering the threat of marauding bloodsuckers through fears of global pandemic. At times the portentous dialogue can sound hokey, but for the most part, the slick pilot and three subsequent episodes set the tone for a series with enough of a hook to get under one’s skin.

Carlton Cuse (“Lost”) joins del Toro (who directed the premiere, and co-wrote it with Hogan) as an exec producer, which is appropriate, since this all begins with a plane too. In this case, it’s a flight from Berlin, which, in “Twilight Zone”-like fashion, arrives with the passengers and crew appearing to have mysteriously died.

Faster than you can say “Helix” (actually a very different show, but with a similar hero), the Center for Disease Control is on the case, led by Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll, “House of Cards”), one of those TV-sleuth types who is brilliant at his job (epidemiology) even though his personal life is a total shambles.

Along with his fellow investigators (Mia Maestro, Sean Astin), he’s charged with deciphering what happened, though a little too quick to dismiss the crazy old coot (David Bradley) who shows up spouting warnings about the apocalyptic dangers of allowing a whatever occupied that giant box (or coffin) in the plane’s cargo to cross the river.

Despite offering a new twist on vampirism, “The Strain” has an old-fashioned quality to it — an “X-Files”-like emphasis on shadowy conspiracies (someone, after all, arranged that flight) and things that go bump in the night, including the German-sounding minion (Richard Sammel, wonderfully creepy) overseeing the process.

The series also takes its time, slowly doling out information, story and glimpses of the towering monster, as the epidemic gradually spreads, and we discover details like what, er, appendages people morphing into giant parasites can do without.

Finally, there’s something kind of nice about casting scientists as heroes, though it also limits the let’s-go-kick-some-ass potential in future installments.

In some respects, the show feels like “The Walking Dead” companion AMC has yet to develop, and FX is trying something new by scheduling the show on Sunday nights, adding to the logjam there with original cable series.

While it’s difficult to foresee precisely how much life there is in the concept, based on this first taste, “The Strain” should be able to convert enough genre fans into loyal viewers to sustain it.

TV Review: 'The Strain'

(Series; FX, Sun. July 13, 10 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Toronto by Double Dare You, Carlton Cuse Prods. and FX Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, Guillermo Del Toro, Carlton Cuse, Chuck Hogan, Gary Ungar; co-executive producers, Bradley Thompson, David Weddle, Regina Corrado; producers, J. Miles Dale, Gennifer Hutchison; director, Del Toro; writers, Del Toro, Hogan; camera, Checco Varese; production designer, Tamara Deverell; music, Ramin Djawadi; editor, Sidney Wolinsky; visual effects supervisor, Dennis Berardi; casting, April Webster. 99 MIN.

Cast

Corey Stoll, David Bradley, Mia Maestro, Sean Astin, Kevin Durand, Richard Sammel, Jonathan Hyde, Miguel Gomez, Natalie Brown, Ben Hyland, Jack Kesy, Robin Atkin Downes

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  1. P Riley says:

    Its really great to watch. Well thought out. I have read the books and am enjoying to tv production. I wish there was more program and less ads. They really cut in to the story and break the mood.

  2. Ricahrd says:

    Read the books and somewhat liked them so was interested in seeing the tv version. Boy, episode 1 was a dog! The acting and the dialog are what made this episode horriffic. I will continue to watch and hope things get better, but not keeping my hopes up.

  3. Enjoyed and thought it a mixture of Salem’s Lot meets Boys from Brazil with a dash of The Walking Dead.

  4. junesxing says:

    I saw the initial episode last night and thought it followed the book rather well. The only thing of note to me is after watching a scene where the big bad not only drains a guy of blood, but literally pounds his head into the cement so that there is nothing left, there was a commercial break, followed by a disclaimer that the show may not be appropriate for all ages based on nudity.

    It is a really sorry commentary on American culture that the kind of violence I described above is not the primary reason to keep young children from watching it, but a bare butt is.

  5. Dean says:

    The Strain.
    My thoughts.
    Acting: god awful.
    Writing: bad
    Story: excellent and intriguing
    Directing: good needs to be better.
    Sfx: decent.
    Grade: D+.
    The show needs a lot of work. Del Toro’s touches stand out and are creepy and good.
    The acting and and writing was terrible. The possibility for it to turn around is there bc the story is so mysterious. Honestly, not impressed but will wait for a couple more episodes.
    A lot like The Forgotten on HBO. Same exact problems.

    • E Cheung says:

      Ditto on the writing–especially the hackneyed personal life “shambles” of the protagonist. Not one moment that didn’t feel arch or unreal–does anyone believe CDC investigators (or any other professionals with more than 3 days work experience) talk like that? Also…if there’s enough of a possibility of a contagion that HAZMAT suits are worn, why is it suddenly okay to go through the luggage, cargo hold, or, for that matter, a roomful of corpses, without one? Dumb dumb dumb.

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