The world of film has crossed over a lot into television as of late. You can see it with stars taking the leap such as in the case of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective. You can also see it with directors such as with Martin Scorsese and the pilot of Boardwalk Empire. The latest big named director to take the leap is none other than Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro directed the first episode of FX’s summer series The Strain, which is also based off of the book series that del Toro helped to write. Unfortunately, The Strain comes across as a hollow transition. The series can be quite flashy with its noticeably better effects (at least in terms of television programs) but del Toro’s work on the series, and the series as a whole, too often comes across as stale.
Del Toro’s books and the series follow CDC employee Eph (Corey Stoll) as he tries to stop a vampire’s plan to take over the world. Unfortunately, the plot is incredibly basic and filled with clichés. Even del Toro’s directorial expertise can’t cover this up as the episode that he films (the first episode, “Night Zero”) is probably the worst in the series as it goes from one cliché to the next. It takes a few episodes before the series can at all emerge from its cliché-riddled storyline, but when it finally does the show can be fun. The structure that the plot eventually takes on works quite well as it goes at a fast clip and every once in a while takes a second to throw in a flashback or two or even check in with a relatively minor character off on their own.
It also helps that The Strain eventually builds up one of the relationships in the series into one of the better duos on television. The relationship change from mentor-apprentice to arch-enemies between Jewish vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) and Nazi commander turned vampire Eichhorst (Richard Sammel) is a fascinating storyline made complete with two great performances (even if Bradley gets a tad too hammy in certain spots). The Strain is an entirely different show and a much better one at that when it is focusing on Setrakian and Eichhorst.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of its cast of characters. The typically great Corey Stoll is wasted as Eph, who might be one of the most boring heroes ever created. The main villain, The Master, is a terrible villain who is as badly written (the rules of the show’s universe are constantly broken so this guy can look more and more powerful at a moment’s notice) as the way he looks (he’s hooded for most of the time which actually makes him look imposing but once the hood is lifted he looks too goofy to be menacing). The show even has a kid problem in which too much time is wasted with Eph’s son (played by Ben Hyland) as he constantly makes stupid mistakes just so the show can generate some easy suspense. At least Hyland is a better actor than Chandler Riggs of The Walking Dead, who plays a very similar character.
The Strain is a severely flawed show that can be fun when it isn’t making so many mistakes.