With the summer TV season in full swing, one pilot this writer has been excited about is Guillermo del Toro’s (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) brainchild The Strain. For those unaware of the development of the series, it is based off of the book trilogy of the same name by del Toro and Chuck Hogan, both of whom adapted the teleplay and the former directing the series. What this means is that audiences are in for one of (hopefully) the most purely adapted pieces in television history.
The Strain is brimming with del Toro’s signature fantastic visual style. Each setting is varied and terrifically detailed, the end result being a beautiful mix of dark realism and Lovecraftian imagery, all the while being full of vibrant colors and life. If you enjoyed the cinematography of the Hellboy films, you’re in for a treat. The two series look almost identical.
The first episode does everything that needs to be done as far as world-building, more than adequately. We get a general feel for each of the main characters and their connected storylines. When a plane from Berlin lands on the JFK tarmac with no signs of life inside, a CDC team led by Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and his team investigate, finding the plane full of corpses and a mysterious box. As they rush to find out just what is going on, they meet Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), who claims to have seen this situation play out before. Of course, the group dismisses him as a crazy old man, only to have the box they found vanish into thin air, part of the machinations of Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde), head of the enigmatic Stoneheart Corporation. The episode ends with promises of further horrors to come as the dead begin to rise and a breed of parasitic worms infest Manhattan.
The main characters, for the most part, are relatively flat and fall into classic archetypes: handsome troubled doctor, lady scientist, badass old dude, thug trying to go straight, sinister businessman, etc. However, they do serve to tell the narrative within the world of the show itself, which plays out much like a classic horror movie, including the monsters explored to much more depth and detail than anything in recent memory.
Speaking of the monsters and horror aspects, both are where del Toro and “The Strain” really shine. For those unaware of the basic plot of the series, it’s vampires. However, these vampires aren’t at all a traditional, charming, Dracula-esque breed that one would find in shows like True Blood. Instead, The Strain’s creature designs draw upon real world parasites, while also being reminiscent of the Xenomorphs from the Alien series. If you’re not sold on them by the awesomely gruesome morgue scene, this show isn’t for you.
Overall, The Strain is one of the most exciting and visually compelling shows to premiere in recent memory, and will hopefully continue to deliver as the series progresses.