Why Are We Watching “The Strain?”

Posted on July 28, 2014

The-Strain-FX-TV-Show-Review-Tom-LOrenzo-Site-TLOCorey Stoll in FX’s “The Strain”


No, really; we’re asking. Why are we tuning into this cheesefest of a summer series (Is there any other kind of summer series?) week after week? The dialogue is almost hilariously clunky. The main characters are all, to a person, almost irredeemably stupid. The story requires that no one effectively shares any information with anyone else. Even if they fear humanity is on the brink of a violent extinction and information must be shared, we’re still offered up the laughable “You’re not ready” as an excuse to keep characters in the dark for as long as possible. The lead character is named Ephraim Goodweather, for God’s sake. That alone should be enough to give us pause. And when you cast the hotness known as Corey Stoll in the part, hide the hotness by slapping a truly horrific wig on him, and then obliterate the hotness completely by having him say repeatedly, “Call me Eph?” Well. You can see why we’re questioning our commitment to this show. Especially since Ephraim and his Epically Bad Wig have to sit through yawn-inducing custody hearings and AA meetings in between not figuring out that he’s got a deadly vampire outbreak happening in Manhattan.

And yet, we just can’t seem to quit you, The Strain. You’re never so bad that we feel our intelligence is being insulted and in your best moments (and there are several), you come off like a fun B-grade horror flick. Even better, you’re a show committed to the task of incinerating the idea that vampires are sexy, sparkly, gorgeous charismatic creatures and sexual figures. No, the vampires of The Strain are just about the most disgusting, repulsive takes on the old form you could imagine. There’s nothing sexy about these bloodsuckers. And to sell that point with the kind of subtlety you can expect from this show, the latest episode had a scene where a man’s penis literally fell off and was flushed down the toilet as he went through the process of becoming a vampire.

Oh, did we forget to mention? It’s a gross-fest. Not quite on the level of The Walking Dead, but it’s early days yet.

Are we recommending this as One To Watch? Not really, unless you like cheesy horror movie tropes, in which case, this might be right up your alley. It helps to have fantasy and horror auteur Guillermo Del Toro as the driving force behind the show, as well as former LOST co-showrunner Carlton Cuse, whose fingerprints are all over this one, mainly in the pacing and the problem with characters not sharing information with each other. One of the driving strengths of LOST was that it was always able to make it seem like the story was really moving and going somewhere, even when it wasn’t. We’re three episodes into The Strain, and it feels like more has happened than has actually happened, if that makes any sense. The script bounces around from scene to scene, character to character, agenda to agenda, making it all feel peppy and fast-paced. But when you look at where the story is after three episodes, you realize that the creators are being very cagey and tight with the story, only doling out bits and piece of information. In other words, it feels like there’s a lot of forward movement in the plot, but there actually isn’t. That would appear to be by design, since things would get boring very quickly if the Vampire Apocalypse happened overnight.

This is kind of a herky-jerky review, but we consider that somewhat appropriate, given the show’s style. It’s silly, the characters are sometimes mind-bogglingly dumb, and it steals a lot from more famous vampire stories (most notably, Salem’s Lot), but it’s got just enough of a sense of quality to the writing and in the cast (who are almost all better than the material needs them to be) that we can’t let go of it just yet. If we were grading types, not one episode rose above a B- in our heads, but the summer TV landscape is desolate and there are worse ways to spend an hour on the couch.

Yeah, that’s damning it with faint praise. Put it this way: if you try not to think about it too much, it’s fun.




[Photo Credit: FX Networks]

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  • Tobey

    That wig is epically bad. Just looking at the still of Corey Stoll in the article makes me laugh (the wig looks like it was meant for a much smaller head). And it is a shame, cuz he’s SO cute.

    • chattycara

      I’m hoping for a scene where his hair falls out and he can ditch the wig all together. The show is just “enh”, but the possibility of Bald Corey making an appearance has me sticking around.

  • hellkell

    The show is janky as hell, but it works. If The Leftovers gave the illusion of movement like this show does, I’d probably have kept watching.

    Stoll’s wig should get its own credit and a name.

  • xmixiex

    I quit after the waste of life second episode.

  • Walburga

    I’m watching – mostly because I enjoyed the books, even if there are plot holes everywhere you look. It is junky fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously but seriously enough – as opposed to the last season of American Horror Story. There is an overarching plot and it is going somewhere. Del Toro has made amazing movies (my favorite being The Devil’s Backbone) but seems to be making more schlock than not these days. The giant robot movie was pretty bad. This show is fun enough and I like the ways that it makes fun of the recent vampire story tropes and tries to make it actually frightening, but I hope Del Toro makes a more interesting show/movie soon. Glad that TLo are watching – I hope you will blog more about it – I always love your take on these types of shows!

    • Saturnine

      I read the Strain and then rushed to read the Fall, but lost interest before the third installment. I’ve forgotten most of the story, but I thought it got apocalyptic much more quickly in the novels.

      Nothing will freak me out more than the hand/eye monster from Pan’s Labyrinth and that sad, sad Orphanage movie.

  • WendyD

    Having read the books this is based on, I’m enjoying seeing the story played out on screen, with an editor/screenwriter who can slice out the cruft.
    The cheesy dialogue & gore is straight from the books, so it’s pretty much what I expected. Creepy summer escapism.

  • “And to sell that point with the kind of subtlety you can expect from this show, the latest episode had a scene where a man’s penis literally fell off and was flushed down the toilet as he went through the process of becoming a vampire.”
    Oh my God

    I need this in my life

    at once

    • MilaXX

      yes! it was glorious!

      • Saturnine

        Totally freaked out by that scene! At least the writers left most of the (initial) transformation to the imagination, but that might have been even worse. When I heard the “noise,” I thought “No. It can be. It just didn’t . . . ? Oh my God!”

        • MilaXX

          and then they showed him full on Ken doll looking just to drive home the point!

  • Angela_the_Librarian

    I’ve seen the first episode and need to get caught up with the others (I’ve been watching Halt and Catch Fire in the same time slot). I read the book and I thought the intro episode was pretty close to the source material. It seems like a fun series and it’s refreshing to see vampires as actual scary monsters and not glittering dream boats.

  • I tried, honest to goodness, I tried. I want to throw my support behind horror shows on prime time TV but I couldn’t get past my annoyances with the characters and boredom with the pacing. Maybe if I hadn’t just read the first book in preparation of the series?

    • MilaXX

      or watch with twitter, i find the snark ups the fun factor

  • Pennymac

    I haven’t gotten caught up in this yet. Although I Netflix’ed the heck out of Hemlock Grove this weekend. It’s appallingly bad. (I’ve almost watched all of the 2 seasons. It’s like a train wreck–I can’t look away)

  • “if you try not to think about it too much, it’s fun” Exactly how I feel about The Witches of East End, which is terrible but I can’t stop watching it.

  • MilaXX

    You summed it up perfectly. This show is fun. It’s not taking itself super serious and about the only statement it’s making is that vampire’s are sparkly goth teens. I absolutely adore this show. I’ve noticed they saved the grossest stuff for the last 15 mins or so, but there is still plenty of smaller yucky moment along the way.

  • LovelyIdio

    As a biologist, watching the first episode where the high-ranking CDC officers go into the plane in full hazmat suits (as they should), and then five minutes later open an undocumented piece of potentially infected plane cargo with effing (“Eph”-ing?) SKULLS all over the box with their bare hands…I couldn’t. I was yelling at the TV and writhing at the same time. It hurts me. My non-biologist boyfriend was pretty amused, though.

    • FrigidDiva

      My husband is a firefighter and does the same thing any time we watch a show or movie that’s based on firefighters. Watching the first couple of episodes of Chicago Fire listening to him berate all the errors with that show was incredibly amusing. I think it was in the second episode where the hunky Taylor Kinney was going to amputate a man’s leg using a sawz-all that sealed the fate on that show for us.

  • greymain

    I just CAN’T….and I do LOVE Corey Stoll….but seriously???

  • PastryGoddess

    This sound perfect for getting drunk and watching while dozing on the bed.

    • Saturnine

      Sorry! I didn’t mean to down vote! Can I change that? I just wanted to add that getting tipsy and surf-watching has worked out for me the last two episodes.

  • mjude

    I decided to join the strain & its not bad for a summer time romp. so I am in for sure.

  • Shawn EH

    Just got back from google, and had no idea what a cute baldy Corey Stoll was. That wig is one of the main things keeping me from the show; I’m taping it, but I just can’t take him seriously with Miami Vice hair.

    • FrigidDiva

      Watch him in season one of House of Cards–hunky as well as giving a great performance.

      • Tobey

        and the short-lived Law and Order: LA. Stoll was Skeet Ulrich’s partner, and it was another glorious bald performance.

  • Rick Diehl

    So far it’s been a bit silly and it certainly is based around the idea that nobody talks to anybody else, and yet, I have really enjoyed it. I guess I’d have to describe it as kind of cliched, but also kind of fun.

  • evave2

    Is Corey Stoll naturally bald or does he shave his head because he likes to? I first saw him on Law & Order: Los Angeles and he was mesmerizing, even against all the other actors most of whom I already knew (I love Alfred Molina and Terence Howard). He was GOOD.
    Then he was in Salt (such a JOYOUS suicide).
    He’s got a Phillip Seymour Hoffman vibe, real talent in a character-type of form that makes him stand out in every scene.

  • marlie

    I tried watching this, I really did, because I sort of love the idea of a vampire outbreak, and not of the sexy emotionally conflicted kind. But I was grossed out at the end of the first episode, and I thought I was going to be sick 10 minutes into the second, and that’s when I turned it off and haven’t turned it back on. I think this kitten doesn’t have the stomach for it.

    And yes, horribly bad wig. Just terrible.

  • zenobar

    I don’t know. They lost me with the milk thing. It was so cheesy and affected and obviously trying to give an otherwise forgettable main character a “quirk”.

    (Because I haven’t read the book, I don’t know if milk consumption comes into play later in the story. If it does, I apologize for my snap judgement.)

    On a not-really-related-but-sort-of-because-we’re-discussing-TV note: What are the odds of seeing any Outlander recaps? It starts in two weeks, and I am SO excited.

  • Liz

    As someone who helps produce the Smithee Awards, I adore awful b movie camp (purposefuly and not). Thanks for the tips!

  • jmuns79

    My husband and I spent the entire first episode trying to figure out where we’d seen Corey Stoll. Despite literally JUST having finished “House of Cards.” The wig rendered him virtually unrecognizable. Then when I realized who he was, hubby was like, “Wait, I thought he was bald.” We couldn’t get past the wig to even see his face.

  • AthenaJ

    It’s an interesting juxtaposition watching True Blood (hot sexy vampires) and then The Strain right after (blood sucking people infesting giant parasites = not hot sexy vampires). The Strain definitely hits on the classic horror tropes: Conflicted hero with addiction issues who is torn between family and figuring out what the hell is going on, old guy who has fought this particular evil before and tries to warn said hero but nobody listens to him because he’s ‘just a crazy old man’, clever woman who starts to suspect what’s really going on, well-meaning good guy who gets corrupted by the evil force using their vulnerabilities against them, random wild card guy who seems to have his own thing going on but you know he’s going to be an important factor later in the story, government bureaucrats who want to keep what’s happened hush hush and smoothed over, an evil giant corporation behind it all, and finally the thing that drives me nuts every time: surviving infected victims who (except for one) are generally stubborn and belligerent with the very people who are trying to help them and keep them from possibly spreading a deadly disease. Some mysterious scary thing suddenly kills an entire plane full of people except for a few (who for awhile seemed dead as well)? Pssshhht whatevs, must’ve been carbon monoxide poisoning so it’s totally ok to get sent immediately back home with no oversight.
    Btw I canNOT believe they sort of showed that thing going down the toilet. And then when the guy turned to face us all Ken doll-like, I screeched “It’s Silence of the Lambs!!”
    Is the show campy and gross as hell? Yes.
    Will I keep watching? Sure, might as well ride this crazy train all the way down the line.

  • Suzanne Moore

    I keep tuning in, too. It’s cheesy, but not as cheesy as Sharknado 2 and not nearly as depressing as The Leftovers, which I’ve given up on.

  • Tricia

    Yup, I don’t think about it, and I’ve been enjoying it. Campy and predictable and silly and somehow still scary in parts. I think the Renfield/Nazi character (whoever that actor is) is actually quite good. And yes about Stoll’s wig. You’d think their budget would allow for better hair.

  • nancymae

    I watched the first episode and just saw no need to continue. Between the Eph, the wig, the stock stereotypes — latino bangers with attitudes, wiry old jewish sage that no one will listen to and of course, the villian’s inside man — and the raammed in genius who can’t do the family thing but really wants it, there was just nothing there. But, I trust my uncles almost as much as I trust my brother so I will give it another try, this time with a nice white wine and some tortilla chips.

    Random summer tv note: is anyone else watching Extant?

    • Columbinia


  • Man Dala

    I just can’t deal with yet another supernatural show right now. Just can’t.

    • Columbinia

      It’s interesting that so many scripted shows nowadays rely on the supernatural for a premise.

  • I’m watching and find it interesting enough to continue. Feels a lot like Helix to me. Have to admit I did a double take at Corey, not recognizing him at first.

  • sparkle_burnout

    Oh God, it’s just horrible, and yet I keep watching. Why was last night even an episode? Virtually nothing happened to clarify or advance the plot. I bet I watch it again next week though.

  • siriuslover

    I hadn’t even heard of it. I may have to check it out, though I’m not a fan of horror stuff.

  • Columbinia

    First, they cribbed straight from Bram Stoker when the ship of the dead with a mysterious box of dirt in the hold appears in modern form as a plane on JFK’s tarmac. Is there a Renfield in the offing? Then I find I’m watching a show about vampires, zombie-ish things and a plague of nightmare parasites that are all part of a single phenomenon. Huh? Finally I notice that in some scenes Corey Stoll is quite distinctly playing George Clooney.

    Yes, it is a gross fest. I nearly wretched as the rock star sucked gooey blood off the floor. So far, I’m only watching the repeat broadcasts of the show on FX. So, yeah, I’m having a hard time committing to it. But right now its logic is holding up better than season 2 of “The Dome.”

  • gingerella

    The hair is ghastly but apparently the character is going to go through some sort of transformation, and the hair is a way of signifying that.

  • Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation

    I laughed out loud when I saw the title of this review- I’m watching the latest episode on demand and was wondering the same thing. I’m sticking around in hope of an increase in gore and creature effects (the opening scene with old German creep putting his face on was great), plus Kevin Durand. And hell, I do love watching David Bradley crotchet his way around anything.