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Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

The Strain: Sundays at 10 Eastern on FX

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a ton of fantasy and horror on the airwaves – NBC has found a Friday night niche running out shows like Dracula, Hannibal, and Grimm. AMC scored a huge hit with The Walking Dead (which will be it’s last major tentpole standing after Mad Men leaves the air next year). HBO has found strong success off of shows like Game of Thrones and True Blood. Even Showtime has entered the fantasy game with Penny Dreadful. Now FX, which has made it’s name in drama off of gritty realistic dramas like The Shield, The Americans, Sons of Anarchy and Justified is getting into the supernatural game with The Strain.

The Strain, the brainchild of film director Guillermo Del Toro, follows the CDC Canary Team, a unit designated to handle to some of the world’s worst viral outbreaks. This time around, however, the outbreak is a virus that afflicts it’s hosts with an ancient strain of vampirism. As a result, Canary Team member Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) assembles a rag-tag army of New Yorkers to fight the vampires in a war that will determine the fate of humanity.

Let’s start with the positives: when The Strain wants to scare the pants off of you, it’s going to scare the pants off of you. This is particularly notable in the slower early portions of the pilot, where the episode lulls you into a false sense of security before using it’s jump scares judiciously. The show also manages to give off a couple of solid gore scares along the way for good measure, as you expect from a show that gives you large numbers of dead and undead bodies floating around at all times.

Unfortunately, those crystallized horror moments are lost in a bloated pilot. As is typical for FX, The Strain‘s premiere clocks in at around 100 minutes. Unfortunately, the pilot squanders most of it’s first half setting up awkward romance and divorce plots for Goodweather that feel tacked onto the show’s ultimate premise of good vs. evil. What makes these bloated moments particularly damning though, is that these moments don’t actually make me care about Goodweather (or any of the protagonists for that matter).

The flatness of the writing unfortunately extends out to much of the show, including the acting. It often seems like the actors are sleepwalking through their lines, even though the only characters with lines so far are the living ones. Similarly, while many horror movies tend to have their fun little moments (often when an undesirable character gets theirs), The Strain exists on being drab everywhere – even plucky moments where Goodweather and assistant Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) are exchanging what one would assume would be banter are completely devoid of punchiness.

The Final Verdict: There’s a good show waiting in The Strain if it just cut out all the fat and focused on the primary plotline. Unfortunately, with the amount of filler in the show, it’s going to take a lot more than diet and exercise to slim down what felt like a grossly bloated pilot. I’d skip this one or wait until the season’s closer to over before looking at it– Sundays at 10 are prime real estate for dramas and this one has to be the weakest new offering in that time slot.