There’s a hint of trepidation any time a new series lands on the small screen. Censorship limitations, fiscal restrictions and an abundance of writers and directors can easily serve as points of distraction for promising conceptions.
Sometimes there are just too many chiefs and not enough Indians, and when you’ve got too many chiefs attempting to hold rule over a tribe with the barest of necessities, things can head south in an instant. That’s the law of the land.
Ultimately, the legitimately scintillating concepts tend to succeed, assuming the funds are there to capitalize on and the featuring network is lenient enough to truly push the envelope, if the idea in question calls for the courageous, that is.
FX’s new monster, “The Strain” (which premieres on July 13th), calls for the courageous, unquestionably. A brilliant interpretation of one history’s most-beloved classics (more on that, briefly), “The Strain” is seamlessly written, features magnetic personalities, top-notch on-screen performances and the kind of gore and special effects you’d anticipate from a big budget summer blockbuster. It’s the perfect package for those feeling deprived of excellent horror on the boob tube, and there are more than a single defined strength fueling the machine.
A Clever New Spin on an Age Old Tale
“The Strain” kicks off in explosively revealing fashion. The narrative runs a stealth parallel to one of the greatest fictional works in the history of mankind. Episode one and two (titled “Night Zero” and “The Box”, respectively) amount to an insanely clever retelling of the infamous Count Dracula’s arrival in Whitby by way of the isolated hills of Transylvania. But make no mistake, the story is so immaculately assembled you’ll likely miss that fact altogether. That’s a good thing. Tellings of Dracula’s origin (and just to clarify, I’m not saying the antagonist of “The Strain” is actually Dracula himself) have saturated the market for too many years to count and they’re not typically creative. An approach as sagacious as this is a near-unrivaled rarity, and the witticisms in the screenwriting are deeply appreciated.
Peel the layers away and you know the outline of this story (at least the beginning). However, if you sit back and allow fluent, refined storytelling to swallow you whole, you’ll never grasp the fact that – to an extent – you’ve heard this one before. That’s the mark of a passion project turned successful art showcase. “The Strain” sports the same gravitational pull that smash hits like “The Walking Dead” bear and to know that at this point, it feels an awful lot like an ultra-respectful tribute to Bram Stoker’s Dracula speaks heavily to its extreme degree of ingenuity.
A Cast to Believe in
“The Strain” doesn’t boast a lineup of A-list exclusives. It does, however, function as a platform for established, cultivated performers that are about to endear themselves to home viewers in a way that in many cases has thus far been somewhat elusive. Corey Stoll (whom you may recognize from “House of Cards” or one of the latest Liam Neeson hits, Non-Stop) fronts the project as the headstrong maestro of the CDC Canary Project, Ephraim Goodweather. He’s wildly sporadic and completely unpredictable yet, ironically, delivers the perfect heroic balance. David Bradley (Harry Potter’s Argus Filch) stands in as today’s equivalent of Van Helsing, and the man’s ability to impose dominance while playing a chameleon-like role is laudable to say the least. Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings), Richard Sammel (Inglourious Basterds) and Jack Kesy (see the critically acclaimed indie effort Morgan) all turn in the kind of supporting roles that eventually evolve into springboards for more great projects. This is a cast to believe and invest in.
High Intensity Gore
Anticipate no pulled punches from the crew behind this nasty production. Viewers will not be spared graphic, up close and personal depictions of savage brutality. The gore (and special effects in general) is simply top notch, fully fit for any fine R-rated picture. And viewers will understand that inside of a single episode. But the beauty behind these highly detailed shots is the fact that they aren’t forced down our throats; they do not serve as any primary focal point. They’re story enhancers, as all great gore shots should be. They should serve only to hammer home the vigor of a certain situation. “The Strain” gets it right in repulsing (in the greatest of ways, mind you!) viewers in measured doses. It may sound like an oxymoron, but this is a project that offers classy grotesqueries that will sate the appetite of gorehounds without offending the sensitive of belly.
The Pacing of the Kentucky Derby
Picture pacing often goes neglected by filmmakers and showrunners alike. It isn’t difficult to become so wrapped up in a thespian’s delivery, or the intricacy of specific sequences and plot details that overall pacing takes a hit. But fluency is paramount to any production, be it the big screen, small screen or live stage. Stories have to move quickly, but not too quickly; reward, but not spoil. It is imperative that a weekly television show command the audience. We’ve got to have a reason to tune in to FX on Sunday nights. We’ve got to feel the invisible pull that only a potentially legendary production can muster. In short, we need the itch, and “The Strain” definitely provides the scratch.
A Return to Form for Guillermo del Toro
Pacific Rim was a tremendous letdown to some. All the charm and charisma that we’ve come to associate with a del Toro production had suddenly gone AWOL or flat-out been forgotten, to the surprise of most. The eerily intimate moments that del Toro capitalized on in pics like Cronos, Mimic, Pan’s Labyrinth and to a lesser degree, the flashy Hellboy films and Blade II, are nowhere to be found. All emphasis was placed on spectacular fight scenes between massive robots and huge, hideous monsters. And that could have worked out for del Toro, had he not fired off his most explosive goods within 30 minutes of a 132-minute film. Despite the global success of Pacific Rim, the heavily respected man of imaginative masterpieces was in dire need of a strong rebound entering 2014, and “The Strain” has proven the ideal vehicle to guide Guillermo right back to top form. This isn’t your typical vampire tale. Hell, it isn’t even remotely near close to typical. This is an innovative story wrapped in an alluring, aesthetically infectious package. Guillermo del Toro is back and every bit as good as he’s ever been.
The ensemble cast of “The Strain” includes Corey Stoll, Mia Maestro, Sean Astin, Kevin Durand, Natalie Brown, Jonathan Hyde, Richard Sammel, Robert Maillet, Jack Kesy, Ben Hyland, Miguel Gomez, and David Bradley.
“The Strain” is a high concept thriller that tells the story of Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Stoll), the head of the Center for Disease Control Canary Team in New York City. He and his team are called upon to investigate a mysterious viral outbreak with hallmarks of an ancient and evil strain of vampirism. As the strain spreads, Eph, his team, and an assembly of everyday New Yorkers wage war for the fate of humanity itself.
The highly anticipated first season of “The Strain” will premiere on July 13th at 10 p.m. and will include 13 episodes.
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