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.