TV Review: FX’s “The Strain” Is More Camp Fun Than Straight Horror

I’ve been looking forward to FX’s new horror series, The Strain, for quite some time. The trailers gave us a peek into a bleak world, populated with a frightening take on the vampire mythology. So it was difficult for me when I found myself let down by the series pilot, “Night Zero.”

The Strain is brought to us by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, based on their trilogy of novels. What he Strain does well is present an exciting lookng world with a fresh take on vampires. Guillermo del Toro is known for his striking visuals and he doesn’t disappoint here. The colors of the sets, the blood sprays…it’s all very stylized as you would expect. I also enjoyed a different approach than what we are typically served up with vampires. Hogan and del Toro have reimagined the spread of vampirism as a bioweapon if sorts, with a parasitic worm infecting its host, slowly changing them into a vampire that looks as if it wandered off the Blade 2 set.

Where “Night Zero” stumbled for me was in its wealth of cliches when it comes to characters. Corey Stoll stars as Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, the head of a CDC team called to investigate a viral outbreak on an international flight that landed in NYC. Goodweather is not just saddled with an unfortunate name, he’s also the fast quipping workaholic whose personal life is in shambles. While trying to sort out the details of the outbreak, he must also deal with his soon to be ex wife and a custody battle for his son. I don’t have anything against character backstory, but everything about this character feels like something we’ve seen a hundred times before. Not to mention how grating Good weather grows over the pilot. It’s worth mentioning that, in the four episdes I’ve screened, Stoll’s performance becomes increasingly more subdued, even if he’s still served up cliched developmental moments.

The rest of the cast doesn’t fair much better. Sean Astin pops up as CDC agent Jim Kent, who inexplicably has sporadic scientific knowledge and has a tie to the evil. There’s Abraham Setrakian, a Holocaust survivor who owns a pawn shop, carries a sword hidden in his cane, and keeps a beating heart in a jar. Setrakian has previous dealings with the Master vampire, and carries on at great length in a fashion that’s sure to get him ignored. The most intriguing cast member for my money is Mighuel Gomes, as Augustin “Gus” Elizalde, fresh out of prison and settling a score with the bad guys.

Ultimately, The Strain is an exercise in managing expectations. The series is more intent on having campy fun and delivering complete gross out moments rather than dark and gritty terror. If you can keep that perspective, The Strain is just that: a fun, bloody show.

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