The Strain is an FX horror-drama series that follows the outbreak of a vampire-epidemic in New York and the lives of those caught up in it – fighting for, against and to just to survive as modern civilization crumbles around them. The show is equal parts the brainchild of visionary director Guillermo Del Toro, veteran TV producer Carlton Cuse and novelist Chuck Hogan (who wrote the trilogy of books the show is based on) but in spite of the fun premise and talents involved, The Strain‘s 13-episode first season just isn’t very good
The series falls short on so many levels its actually kind of bewildering and hard to know where to start. The core mythos behind the series and its vision of vampires is genuinely interesting at times but its constantly undercut by overly-serious monologues and one-liners. The Strain’s writing is full of camp and cheese in all the worst ways – and the experience is only worsened when dragged out by the series’ dreadfully poor pacing.
The acting and casting for The Strain make a fascinating partner to this. Half the characters are cardboard-cutout stereotypes or cliches while the other half seem to be channelling various Hollywood personalities. The show’s one standout comes in the form of Richard Sammel who does an exceptional job as the show’s menacing German antagonist.
The Strain has plenty of opportunities to differentiate itself from the legion of other vampire-shows on TV but it frequently fails to embrace the potential and storytelling scope attached to its premise. The show’s crumbling of society is so spaced out and inconsistent, it cripples the show’s dramatic pacing. One episode will have riots in the streets while the next will see things return to normal even though by all stretches they shouldn’t be.
The only thing that punctuates the series constantly-dragging main plot is the poor decisions characters make. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the human characters in The Strain commit some of the dumbest decisions I have ever seen on a TV. Characters will fail to listen to basic reason and walk into life-threatening situations and get themselves killed like Lemmings. It’s infuriating to watch – even it does touch on the bizarrely compelling idea that modern society is in more danger from basic stupidity than it is sinister cabals.
Like its plot, The Strain’s special effects are a little too inconsistent for comfort. On an episode to episode level, they often fall short but when the series really needs to emphasize a ‘big’ significant moment usually concerning the Dracula-like leader of the vampires, they pull through to great effect. That said, the series does do some interesting things with color theory.
I really tried to give The Strain a chance but it just let me down on all fronts. With the exception of the climax of one particular episode, most of the series is a forgettable slog. That said, as bad as it gets, it certainly isn’t the worst you could do for vampire shows this year.