The Strain is a high concept thriller that tells the story of “Dr. Ephraim Goodweather,” the head of the Center for Disease Control Canary Team in New York City. He and his team are called upon to investigate a mysterious viral outbreak with hallmarks of an ancient and evil strain of vampirism. As the strain spreads, Eph, his team, and an assembly of everyday New Yorkers, wage war for the fate of humanity itself.
This show should have been amazing. I mean the show is the brainchild of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (writer of Prince of Thieves aka The Town). It’s on FX who’s been behind great shows like Louie, Sons of Anarchy and Nip/Tuck. All the ingredients were there so why didn’t it work out?
Actually that’s pretty easy to answer; the show doesn’t work because of the writing. The writers have the ideas and a way to get from point A to point B. The issue is that the way they get there feels robotic and forced. I think this is best represented in our lead, Eph (Corey Stoll). Playing the reluctant hero he comes off as abrasive more than anything. He is given a “smartest guy in the room” persona but botches it by doing stupid things every episode. His case isn’t helped when he, like every other character, is paper thin. Character traits are thrown out but never stick until they’re needed. The best example is Eph drinking at the end of the season finale. Apparently he’s an alcoholic something I have little to no memory of. While another character acts like this is a big deal I had to ask my girlfriend why this was a thing. I guess it’s explained better in the book but as far as the show goes it was just another overly dramatic event. It’s unfortunate that he’s the main character because I generally enjoy the rest of the show.
Given the rest of the characters are just as poorly written but at least they can be more fun to watch. While they are all clichés the characters feel like they’re moving to whatever objective they have as opposed to spinning their wheels like Eph. This is helped by the fact that the cast is pretty good for the most part. They seem to be having fun with their roles and I think it shows. There’s also a fun chemistry to the supporting cast; particularly Kevin Durand as Fet and pretty much everyone else. He’s such a likable, cool character that you can’t help but be more invested in him than whatever elseis doing.
Another thing the show did right was horror. While the show had a tendency to delve into the show’s mythology and make it seem like some epic at its core it’s a horror show. I found that when they tried to do things that were purely horror the show was at its best. A perfect example was the 8th episode titled Creatures of the Night. A bottle episode for the most part it’s dealing with our heroes stuck in a convenience store that’s surrounded by vampires. It’s was a simple and easy set up yet it worked quite well. Even little scenes like the dead resurrecting while Sweet Caroline played made for extremely effective scenes that rivaled any other horror show on TV. The show would also delve into the ridiculous every now and then. Mid-season a battalion of vampire hunting vampires appears for a single scene and disappear until the season finale. It’s so stupid and out of place but it works. It had just enough WTF to be silly but still exciting. Unfortunately we got less of this and more of Eph’s kid watching nothing but news and yet being the stupidest kid alive.
Not going to lie, this show could be rough at times. Despite its pedigree a poorly written lead and his dumb character choices really hurt the show for me. While this wouldn’t normally be an issue with the show so focused on Eph this is a real hindrance. It’s a shame too because I think everything else works out pretty well. Hopefully this can be fixed in the new season next year.
From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series
FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES CENTERS ON THE GECKO BROTHERS WHO ARE WANTED BY THE AUTHORITIES AFTER A BANK HEIST LEAVES SEVERAL DEAD. ESCAPING TO MEXICO, CHAOS ENSUES WHEN THEY TAKE HOSTAGES AND DETOUR TO A STRIP CLUB THAT IS POPULATED BY VAMPIRES.
Adaption seems to be the current the big thing in TV. From superheroes (see the 264 DC Comics shows green lit) to horror (Walking Dead) and even dramatic comedies (About A Boy) adapting a property seems to be the way studios are going right now. Naturally it’d be smart for a new network to jump on this and there’s no better choice for El Rey than founder Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn. The mix of humor, horror and action seems like the perfect fit for El Rey. Still can a big budget movie that starred George Clooney and Salma Hayek be done on the small screen? The results may surprise you.
The biggest thing to note is that for the most part the story isn’t original. The template of the show is the plot of the movie which was a double edged sword. On the one hand I think as a base it’s a pretty good story; particularly with the mythology added to the story. The show goes into Mayan and Aztec folklore the movie lacked which made for a unique and interesting twist. It also gives our cast more time to develop their characters and be more than “Seth the cool one” and “Ritchie the creepy one.” Unfortunately using the same story as the movie also means predictability. While there are some new storylines a lot of the same beats are hit which doesn’t leave much room for suspense, particularly early on. It definitely takes a couple of episodes before the show starts to hit its stride. Luckily the cast is good enough to weather this particular storm.
Obviously DJ Cotrona isn’t as charismatic as George Clooney and that’s no fault of his own. While an awkward transition at first Cotrona slowly makes Seth Gecko his own character. More an opportunist than a charmer I think this version works better considering the transition to TV. The same goes for Zane Holtz as Ritchie who was originally played by Quentin Tarantino. More than just a creepy bastard he is more mentally unstable (or is he?) being summoned to Mexico through supernatural forces. Holtz works the role to perfection making you question his sanity until everything is revealed. While the rest of the cast is good I would like to point out Wilmer Valderrama as Carlos. I’ve never cared for the dude before but his level of acting (overacting?) is pitch perfect for a show like this. He chews the scenery but doesn’t go RZA with it and become too goofy.
It was announced earlier this year that El Rey had ordered a second season of the show and I couldn’t be happier. Despite a rough start the show soon found its own tone that set it apart from the plethora of horror shows on TV. Is it perfect? No, far from it. The show’s pacing feels off early on and the effects can be laughable at times. Despite these flaws with new stories to tell, a mythology to expand upon and endless potential I think this could be a program to keep your eye on.
Rating- C++ (so close to a B but not quite)