By Jess Peacock
The Strain has finally come full circle, its nascent days spent as a pitch for a television series, only to be rejected and find new life as a bestselling three book series. And now Guillermo del Toro’s vision of the vampire apocalypse is a hit show for the FX network, its first season earning, so far, fairly consistent positive reviews and enough of a viewership to garner an order for a second season to begin airing in the summer of 2015.
Adhering rather closely to the novel with some miner changes and modifications, the first nine episodes of the season of The Strain is something of a slow burn up until the fourth episode, appropriately titled It’s Not For Everyone, where a conspiracy to initiate a viral outbreak of vampirism in New York City boils over and the disbelieving heroes, so ensconced in their scientific reason, become fully engrossed in the rapidly growing horror.
With minds of the caliber of Guillermo del Toro and co-author of the novels Chuck Hogan shepherding the series, and Lost executive producer Carlton Cuse bringing his showrunning expertise to the table, The Strain should be a game changer in cable television history. So why have I been underwhelmed?
I don’t mean to insinuate that I don’t like The Strain. I actually do, and consider it one of the better horror series to come along in quite some time. David Bradley is a delight as Abraham Setrakian, a grizzled, cold, and determined vampire hunter with a past connected to the big bad the Master. There have been some effectively horrific scenes so far, such as the morgue attack in the first episode, Neeva the housekeeper’s flight from Joan Luss’ house with the children in tow, Vasiliy Fet taking care of the problem that Eph was unable to address, as well as the flashbacks to Eichorst’s past in Treblinka, all making for particularly good television. However, despite all of this, I feel like The Strain should be so much better than it has been up to this point. There just seems to be something missing from the mix.
Of course, many television shows take a little time to find their voice and momentum. Fringe wandered somewhat aimlessly its first season, trying desperately to avoid the X-Files-light tag, only to become one of the most innovative sci-fi television shows in history. In the case of The Strain, several issues need to be addressed, not the least of which is the pacing. There really doesn’t seem to be much of a rhythm to the series, as frightful scenes of vampiric mayhem suddenly nosedive into lengthy detours of wooden exposition.
Which leads to the second problem of the series, and that is the writing. When a talented cast comprised of Corey Stoll, Sean Astin, and Kevin Duran are unable to convey believable dialogue, then there’s some radical tweaking that needs to be done.
Again, there has been plenty to love over the past nine episodes, and, having read the novels, the next four weeks should definitely pick up the pace as the proverbial shit continues to hit the fan. Beyond this season, knowing the cataclysmic events that are unleashed and the malevolent depths the novels descend into, it will be interesting to witness how del Toro, Cuse and Hogan translate such massive and disturbing imagery to the small screen. Until that question is answered, the first season of The Strain thus far, despite its shortcomings, has served as one of the more original and epic vampire narratives in some time.