Straining to Watch the Strain

show title for the strain

Are you straining to get through The Strain? You’re not alone.

My father once said, “Son, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” and then, later, he started cracking on the next door neighbors. My take away from this, other than the fact that my father knew some colorful words, was you should temper your negative criticism with some positive criticism. This is what I am going to attempt to do with The Strain.

I wanted to like The Strain. Truly, I did. You can read my initial thoughts here. Season one started off on a high note. The ghost plane filled with dead passengers and crew was a nice, creepy touch to start the series. It should have set the tone for the entire series, however as the series went on the creepy moments became few and far between.

nutless vampire
This is one guy who will never rock out with his cock out again.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some great scenes in the first season. Who can forget Mrs. Barbour locking the neighbor in her tool shed so her infected husband could have a meal? We’ll never forget Gabriel Bolivar’s penis falling into the urinal while he was taking a leak. He shrugged the whole thing off like his penis always falls into a urinal while taking a leak. To top things off, he flushed it when he was done! And we can not forget the creepy kid from the plane. Kids are creepy to begin with, but the creepiness is magnified one hundred fold when they start feeding on their fathers.

The episodes chronicling Captain Doyle Redfern’s infection were some of the better scenes in the season. It also ended with some of the best action and creep outs we have seen in both seasons. These episodes also highlight another problem with The Strain– the acting.

corey stoll in the strain
A bad hairpiece is the least of Stoll’s problems.

The acting in the series is, perhaps, the weakest link in the show. With every passing episode, Corey Stoll’s overacting becomes a detriment to the series. It becomes even more painful during his scenes with his son Zach (played equally bad by Max Charles in season two and Ben Hyland in season one). Whatever father/son dynamic that is trying to be established is ruined by the wretched acting. Stoll is not alone in the overacting department.

Mia Maestro’s Nora Martinez didn’t help things. Everything coming out of her mouth had to be so emotional. Yes, they were fighting an unknown virus, but not everything she said had to begin and end with tears.

David Bradley (Abraham Setrakian) and Jonathan Hyde (Eldritch Palmer) and Richard Sammel (Thomas Eichorst) only marginally helped season one. It’s too early to tell if they’ll help season two. Sean Astin’s better performance managed to even out the bad performances. When Astin was killed off the bad performances started to outweigh the good. Fortunately, we still have Kevin Durand who, as Vasiliy Fet, is the stand out in the series. However, Durand is still not enough to counter Corey Stoll’s overacting.

The bad acting affects any scene in which our heroes are in danger. In none of the scenes where danger is present is there a sense of fear or tension coming from the characters. There could be, but it’s drowned out by the bad acting on everyone’s part. It’s getting to the point we don’t care about the characters because we know they’re not really in any danger from vampires or anything else.

Speaking of vampires, because The Strain is about vampires, it’s nice to see in a genre as flooded as the vampire field something different from the norm. There’s no doubt del Toro and co-author Chuck Hogan gave us something different. These vampires, if we can really call them vampires, are created from maggot looking creatures who infect a host body. All these creatures are connected to the Master.

The all mind approach isn’t unique. It’s been done in everything from Dracula to True Blood  and The Lost Boys. However, I’m going to give The Strain some credit because the Master can give back any of his creatures their memories and thoughts from when they were alive. It’s interesting to say the least.

    Big Bird's second cousin, twice removed on his mother's side.
Big Bird’s second cousin, twice removed on his mother’s side.

We knew when The Strain started the vampires would be different from vampires in other stories. Pre-released images of the vampires were very similar (minus the neck vagina) to the vampire Nomak from Blade II. The underlying vampires, as I call them. are the best thing about The Strain. The makeup is nothing short of awesome. These are some truly ugly, terrifying vampires. There’s no question about it- you would not want to meet these vampires in a dark alley or anywhere else for that matter.

Whereas The Strain succeeded with the infected vampires it failed miserably with the Master. We were lead to believe throughout season one the Master was a horrible and terrifying beast. When the Master was revealed he turned out to be the largest muppet ever to come out of the Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Okay, Henson didn’t have anything to do with the creation of the Master. If they had, it would have been a much better job. Have you ever seen The Dark Crystal? Farscape? 

Let’s put it another way. In 1922, using nothing but lighting and makeup, F.W. Murnau gave us Graf Orlok, one of the nastiest, scariest vampires to grace the silver screen. del Toro and company would have been better off keeping the Master a 10-foot creature hidden underneath a dirty cloak. It would have been much more sinister than what was revealed.

Created in 1922, still creepy after more than 90 years.

We’re only two episodes into the second season and things are not going well. We were lead to believe all hell was breaking loose in New York at the end of the season one finale. A long shot showed a city under siege by vampires. There’s mention of  a “vampire apocalypse” during the second season premiere. We’re even treated to a couple scenes of Eldritch Palmer speaking to the city about the help he’ll give the city during “these trying times.” In the second episode, an unnamed woman threatens the mayor she’ll call in the National Guard to secure the streets and to kill all the vampires infecting the city.

Funny thing is while the city is supposedly falling apart everything is continuing like any other day in a big city. Business is still being conducted, people are still going to work and  transportation, judging by a well-stocked Costcoesque relief center, is still moving along.

However, we can only assume all of this because we never see any exterior shots of the city. There are no shots of Jane and John Q. Citizen, other than two people the Goodweather and company find in a storage shed, voicing any concern regarding a virus spreading through the city. There are no newspapers of any kind reporting the virus either. This virus is so powerful and spreading quickly through the city that not a single news outlet is reporting people getting sick, dying, and turning into vampires? We knew Dutch was a super hacker who could shut down the entire internet (more ridiculousness from season one), but did she shut down every means of disseminating information too? How was the news reported before the Internet Age? It must have been quite a dark time never knowing what was going on in the world.

Some exterior shots of a city falling apart would have been a nice touch and would have made us believe this city really was in danger. A news report on the radio would have worked. Movies like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, World War Z, and Night of the Living Dead used all of these to great affect.

Ridiculous scenes also continue to plague season two. In “By Any Means,” Vasiliy and Dutch clear a bathroom in a public pool. All the vampires are soundly sleeping in bathroom stalls, shower stalls, and in the sauna. They don’t even stir when the two walk loudly into the bathroom. It would be have been easy to take them all out without one of the vampires waking up. However, this is the world of The Strain and nothing is that simple. Going overboard gives the show an exscuse to show off grenades packed with silver and the special effects of vampires being blown to tiny vampire bits.

After they are done in the bathroom, Vasiliy tells Dutch they can start to clear out the rest of the building and then start on the rest of the block. This means there were more vampires in the pool house. Do they do the smart thing and clear the building room by room? No, they don’t. Instead, they have sex in the pool! Dutch isn’t hard on the eyes, but is sex the best idea with an unknown amount of vampires lurking around?

Another stand out scene for all the worng reason is when Zach erases the word “infected” from the dry erase board Goodweather and Martinez have used to formulate a vvampire cure. What an act of pre-teen spoiled rebellion! Erase one word in a highly complicated formula. Of course, these doctors will never be able to replicate the formula because one word was erased. I have no doubt it will be a BIG issue in episode three. Remember, you read that here first.

snapsot of "of services rendered"
Abraham Setrakian: Nazi Vampire Hunter coming this fall to FX

The best scenes in The Strain, both seasons, are the flashbacks to when Setrakian was in a Nazi prison camp and his time after World War II. In “By Any Means” we see Setrakian chase after a Nazi doctor who had performed experiments on Jewish prisoners. The doctor then later joins Eichorst in his new vampire Reich. A Jewish man, a former prisoner in a death camp, tracking down Nazi vampires is the show we want to see. That show would be awesome on so many levels.

None of these things would matter if FX had advertised the series as a cheesy fun horror show. The Evil Dead is probably one of the most over-the-top silly B-movies ever made and it rocks! It revels in its cheesiness. However, The Strain was not advertised this way. I’d even forgive a lot of thingsif FX said the show was inspired by the Hammer Horror movies of the 60s. It didn’t. Are we really suppose to be even slightly chilled by this show? It’s not even good action adventure.

Is The Strain the worst thing on television? No, that honor goes to anything with “Real Housewives of” in the title. However, it’s not even close to the middle of the good television list. The Strain has a lot of things to fix (acting being the biggest) before it can be really good. We’ll still watch The Strain simply to see where this train wreck is heading to next.