Oct 30, 2014

[TV] The Strain: Season 1

It was Tobie who first called my attention to The Strain, which was one of the rare instances of him seeking out a particular book outside of comics or RPG books. It's not that Tobie doesn't like books - it's just not his primary focus. Anyway, the fact that the book involved Guillermo Del Toro was an interesting motivator to begin with plus the little story about how it had been a TV pilot that didn't get picked up and so now it was a book series.

Of course I doubt any of us were truly surprised when it was announced that The Strain was being adapted into a TV series. So yes, they didn't want to make a TV show about it before, but because it gathered a decent enough following as a book, it suddenly became a property worth investing in. There's a heck of a lot of irony at work here.

This all just goes to show that Hollywood truly is afraid of "new" ideas, even from established creatives like Del Toro. As much as possible, they're only willing to hedge their bets with "safer" investments such as remakes and reboots of existing material. And so when The Strain managed to get itself turned into a book series (and later a comic book series), well, then I guess it became fair game for the studios. Because reasons.

Synopsis: The Strain is an American horror-drama television series based on the book trilogy of the same name as written by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Carlton Cuse serves as the show's executive producer and showrunner and the first season aired on FX.

The story begins with a plane landing at JFK International Airport but then it stops responding to radio calls from air traffic control. All lights inside the plane go out and all doors are sealed shut. Fearing the worst, airport authorities call in the CDC to investigate the plane and this brings in Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and his team. It takes a while to finally get into a plane after initial attempts fail, but ultimately it was the suddenly open door that gave them access.

Inside they discover that most of the passengers and even the crew are all dead save for 4 individuals. The team quickly evacuates them to a nearby hospital to try and stabilize their condition while also trying to figure out what had happened. The only possible clue is a large coffin-like box filled with soil that does not appear to have been properly listed on the manifest. But whatever it is that killed all the passengers is now lose in New York City and it will fall back on the shoulders of Dr. Goodweather and his companions to set things right.

Admittedly I was pretty excited about this project when the news first broke. After all, Del Toro is already an established filmmaker, but more importantly a pretty good storyteller. Thus turning his literary work into something visual seemed like an easy enough endeavor. And while I have only read the first book thus far, I could recognize the merits of the story and Del Toro's interesting take on the whole vampire mythos. And yes, this is a show about vampires, for those of you who managed to completely avoid the various television spots and online videos about the show.

If the involvement of the CDC didn't clue you in, the vampire angle that this story takes is generally about a biological explanation for a vampire, although the actual explanation still has some rather fantastical elements involved. In this case, there are these worms that transfer over to a new host and take over the body in order to convert it into another carrier. The rather apt comparison is that it turns human beings into walking viruses is a good enough analogy. This was definitely one of the more fascinating aspects of the book, and one that they made sure to bring to the TV series. The only issue involves rather inconsistent portrayal of these little worms themselves since they get disturbingly big in this series.

I didn't exactly have major expectations when it came to the casting for this show, but the end results were still pretty disappointing. And while David Bradley has his entertaining moments as Professor Abraham Setrakian, the rest of the cast was rather lackluster. The only thing notable about most characters in the show was the fact that everyone seemed to lack any believable emotions when faced with animated corpses with giant blood-sucking appendages down their throats. Seriously, no one really panics and half the cast relies on this odd hushed way of speaking.

The story also dragged on a bit, with a lot more emphasis placed on the "girl who broke the internet" sub-plot than was probably necessary. It amazes me how the city remained largely functional all throughout this first season despite there supposedly being hundreds and even thousands of vampires already living underneath the city by the time we get to the climax. And this was also a city where internet and mobile phone signals were already being disrupted - how could this not generate more of a reaction from the population?

To be fair, the book wasn't exactly perfect and I felt a similar sense of the story being stretched out a bit too long to fill up that first novel. The show managed to make things even longer with weird sub-plots and indulging in odd moments, The episode that had them stuck in a convenience store being stalked by the vampires was definitely one of the more pointless ones.

The Strain is a decent enough adaptation of the book, but also very slow and very awkward. I don't feel all too inclined to watch the next season, but then again maybe I need to read the other books first. Thus this first season only gets 3 shambling vampires searching for their loved ones out of a possible 5.

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