FX's The Stain entered the summer as TV.com's most-anticipated new show of the season, so let's keep these pleasantries to a minimum and get straight to the goods because we all know that many of you have been dying to get your eyeballs on the series ever since it was first announced. Well, I put my peepers on the pilot episode and I'm ready to let you know whether it lived up to the hype in another edition of Spill the Beans, TV.com!
The Strain, so this is a show about an overworked hamstring or a giant colander?
No, sorry. It's about VAMPIRES! Well, maybe. Nothing is explicitly labeled a vampire in the pilot, but there's a giant monster that sucks out the blood of its victims and a possible virus that infects its unfortunate hosts by way of a well-promoted worm. A CDC epidemiologist with a crumbling marriage is our point man for investigating this mess, but there's also a diverse cast of supporting characters, including a gangbanger and a deranged (or maybe not) old pawn-shop owner. They all converge when a plane from Berlin arrives at New York City's JFK airport and just sits on the tarmac... quiet, cold, and waiting. This is a scary one!
Who's the Alpha on the show, and who stars in it?
There are a few big names attached to The Strain, starting with Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy). The series is based on del Toro's trilogy of novels (which were co-written by series co-creator Chuck Hogan) of the same name; the first two seasons are expected to cover the first two books, with the third book split across two seasons. The Strain's other big behind-the-scenes name is that of Lost's Carlton Cuse, who will serve as showrunner (the busy Cuse is also the boss of A&E's Bates Motel).
Onscreen, you might recognize Corey Stoll (House of Cards) as Ephraim Goodweather, the CDC scientist who's trying to stop whatever potential outbreak has just arrived in the Big Apple. Or you might not recognize him, because he has hair for this role—or, more specifically, he wears an outrageous hairpiece. Mia Maestro (Alias) plays Eph's sexy co-worker, the great Jonathan Hyde (Titanic or Anaconda, take your pick) plays a mysterious old dude, and Sean Astin (Goonies) plays a nerdy CDC administrator. But my favorite character by far is David Bradley's (Harry Potter's Argus Filch and Game of Thrones' Walder Frey) Abraham Setrakian, another mysterious old man who knows a lot more about "the strain" than anyone else.
When does The Strain begin infecting our TV sets?
The Strain premieres Sunday, July 13 at 10pm on FX. Factoid: Its time slot will put it head-to-head with HBO's The Leftovers, which is run by Cuse's former Lost buddy Damon Lindelof. Two men enter, one man leaves!
Who is going to like The Strain?
Do not be fooled by the fact that the show is airing on the typically prestige-y and serious FX; this is a del Toro project, and it fits very well into his portfolio. It's particularly reminiscent of Blade II and Hellboy (as opposed to Pan's Labyrinth), because the pilot is surprisingly fun and stylized. There's an ample amount of campiness, so if you're a fan of tongue-in-cheek horror that still offers legit scares, you're golden.
What's particularly potent about The Strain?
What I like most about the first episode is that it has a great sense of what it is: a realistic show set in a hyper-realistic world that's similar to our own. The whole pilot feels like a graphic novel come to life, with characters who are caricatures, yet still somehow grounded, as well as some ridiculously fantastic violence. And the tone is spot-on: The show wants to be scary AND fun. I loved being on the edge of my seat even when I knew what was coming, and there are some fantastic gore shots, including one particularly brutal bout of smashing from a monster-beast.
The Strain also has a promising future, thanks to several engaging storylines introduced throughout the pilot, which include some personal tales of [REDACTED] and some corporate mischief. Stoll's stellar House of Cards performance is behind him, but you can tell that he gets what's going on here and he's great as Eph. Finally, to top it all off, there's Bradley's commanding, albeit familiar and hammy, turn as Setrakian.
Is there anything about The Strain that needs treatment?
The Strain is really off-brand for FX in the sense that it's not a brainy drama with sharp writing and powerhouse performances, so viewers who are expecting something along those lines will be disappointed. It's also pretty cliché, with Eph giving the "viruses are dangerous" speech, shadowy organizations, and other typical horror tropes. However, I'd argue that the show handles its clichés well, and that it isn't trying to reinvent the genre.
So, should I watch it?
The Strain won't be a series for everyone because it toes the line between realistic and campy, but the result is a fun summer show as far as I'm concerned. It might not be a critical favorite, but I enjoyed the heck out of the pilot and I can't wait to see more.
Let's take a look at a trailer!
Okay! But, friend to friend, I think you should just go into the pilot blind to keep the scares and surprises intact.
The Strain premieres Sunday, July 13 at 10pm on FX.