Corey 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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