My first year of graduate school found me at the Newark, New Jersey library on a chilly fall evening. Yeah, I lived in Newark, seeing as how New York was too expensive and my dreams of getting my Masters in Screen-writing had turned into a Masters in International Relations. It almost sounds like New York, right? Except more dangerous (really, Newark isn’t THAT bad if you’re on a budget). I was wandering the abandoned aisles looking for something to bide the time between 3 AM, when I stopped doing homework, and 7 AM, when I inevitably fell asleep only to rise again at 3 PM for classes.
This is how my relationship with Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s book The Strain began. I grabbed it seconds before the library closed and the librarians kicked me out. I read the book over the course of a weekend and loved it – like REALLY loved it – but mysteriously not enough to pick up the second and third books once they came out. Maybe my love for the book was fleeting, emotions muddled by the fact I was stressed out from tests while having a bad cold, afraid that there was no way I would get an internship the next summer. But I still loved it enough that when I heard it was being turned into a TV show for FX, I freaked out a little. Especially when Ernest Hemingway/Peter Russo/that guy from that movie (seriously, have you ever looked at his filmography? He’s been in everything) Corey Stoll was cast.
July 13th, 10 PM. I’ve purposefully kept myself in the dark to an extent with the previews, wanting to have forgotten enough of the book to go into the experience fresh. FX is hard to find, a channel I never watch. I fall down the rabbit hole and immediately know where I am, but then I realize a very strange fact.
If this was what the book was like, I have no idea why I enjoyed it so much. Were the characters really this wooden and unlikeable? Was the CDC really dumb enough to just casually open a massive box covered in creepy drawings and poke around inside the dirt that filled it? Would a dirt-filled box even be light enough for guys to just turn it over like that? Some of the episode was totally illogical. Likewise, I can foresee the main character’s child custody/divorce subplot turning into a plodding mess of who fucking cares.
But come on. The worst part was totally Corey Stoll’s wig. I think he must have gotten some of that hair gel from There’s Something About Mary. Maybe he makes his own.
Beyond all that, there are a few things that stood out to me:
ACTING: There were a good apples, but a few others spoiled the bunch. Mia Maestro, playing Dr. Nora Martinez (Call Me Eph’s coworker and fuck buddy), is rather wooden and one-dimensional to the point of being laughably bad at parts. She tries to convey emotion and understanding to Call Me Eph, but conveys wood and boringness. Likewise, Samwise Gamgee – I mean Sean Astin – is relatively dead as whatshisface I really don’t remember. Totally unmemorable. Corey Stoll is flaw-free even as his character remains a douche for stereotypical reasons, and my fave? David Bradley aka Argus Filch as Abraham Setrakian, an Armenian Jewish Holocaust victim who seemingly is the world’s expert on what’s going down, and the ultimate elderly badass – except nobody believes him and he gets arrested. Whoops.
HORROR: Well, Guillermo del Toro, I must give you one thing about this show since your characters are not that great – your evil critters are quite intriguing in the vampire genre. Worm-filled hearts, Xenomorph-esque tongues that suck blood, a creature made of pure evil (or something close) called “The Master” (eh, I’ll forgive names).
This show has legitimate scares and parts that will make your stomach turn, and that is something I have been DYING for on television. The Strain promises to bring the gross outs and scares week to week, and I can’t wait to see if we’ll get some new creatures, especially since the ending of the episode promised us a cute but evil, very much dead girl on the loose in the city.
All in all, I enjoyed “The Strain” for what it was – juicy, cheesy summertime enjoyment. Summer television is nothing serious, just a chance to relax and enjoy what wouldn’t succeed during the regular season, like no holds bar horror complete with some partial nudity, lots of blood, brains, guts, and underwear.
And yeah, it’s true I really can’t remember much of the books besides that I liked it a lot five years ago. It’s true that I think this show has some legitimate flaws. But you know what? I cannot wait to put those flaws aside and watch the horror and gruesomeness and the world turn into a bunch of undead vampire zombies. What can I say? I can’t resist blood and gore on TV. Not one bit.