It’s no secret that the first season of FX’s vampire series The Strain was a disappointment. It was a case of the advertisements being better than the show itself, which is disappointing but not surprising, considering the novels the series is based on are no great works of art themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the books were a fun summer read, but in no way would I call them good. What irked me about the series is that many of the problems that the books had are still present in the series. To me, one of the goals of a film or television adaptation of a series of novels would be to take the worst parts of said novels and improve upon them. The Strain only did that in one area: they killed off Nora’s mother way before it happened in the books (and she was awful in the books). Now that the series has had some time to think about what it’s done, it returns to us with a second (and hopefully improved) season.
First, let’s look at some of The Strain’s most crippling problems:
I kept trying to convince myself last season that I liked the characters in The Strain. The Season 2 premiere made me realize how wrong I was. I actively despise nearly every human character on the show (Setrakian and Fet being the only two likable ones). With the premiere, the majority of the focus was on The Master’s origin (in a sequence expertly directed by Guillermo Del Toro) and Setrakian. Once anything shifted to Nora and Eph, the episode turned to shit (and I’m an Alias fan, so I love Mia Maestro). We all know characters makes stupid decisions in horror movies, but The Strain overdoes it. It took weeks for people to start noticing there was a vampire virus infecting people all over New York City, people hang on to their loved ones knowing their chances of survival would be better if they left them behind (Nora and Zach), the show expects us to care about certain characters we’ve barely spent any time with (I still can’t believe we got an entire late-season episode devoted to Kelly Goodweather’s demise), and, worst of all, the characters are annoying.
I fully believe this is a consequence of stretching out a 400-page novel into a 13-episode season, but that is why The Strain should have 10 (or less) episodes in a season. Under the Dome is over 1,000 pages and even that could barely mine enough material to fill a 13-episode season (much less the 2 seasons that followed it, which deviated heavily and are still terrible). That being said, there were so many scenes in the first season that could have easily been cut. I’m all for a slow burn, but let’s not kid ourselves here: Hannibal this is not. The Strain is a glorified B-movie, and when it embraces those aspects of itself, it can be great. When it tries to be serious (which is where a lot of the aforementioned wheel-spinning comes into play), it’s actively terrible. Part of my impatience with these scenes may be because, as a book reader, I know where the show is going. Seeing it waste so much time on meaningless characters (or romantic sub-plots) is frustrating. What do you think? Am I being too harsh?
I’m all for practical makeup effects, but The Master is embarrassing. It looks like he just had his lips done. Seriously, just look at this thing:
What irks me about this one is that they actually recast Ben Hyland,who was terrible in the first season (I’m sorry! I know he’s a child actor, but he was bad). So they were actually trying to improve in this particular area, but if Max Charles’ performance in the season 2 premiere is any indication, he might actually be worse than Hyland. Granted, this is mostly because the character of Zach is written as the most insufferable pre-teen to ever exist on film. This kid has seen his mother in vampire form, yet still insists that his father go find her so they can be a family again. Um, what?
These are just some of the most obvious issues plaguing The Strain (sorry), and I think they’re easy to fix. I actually enjoyed the Season 2 premiere more than Jess did, but the show still has a lot of work to do. It’s on the right track, but it essentially boils down to making the humans relatable, likable and, most importantly, smarter. A faster pace wouldn’t hurt either (or a shorter episode order for next season). Oh, and get rid of Zach, stat. Those of you who did read the books know what’s in store for him though…
In conclusion, I have this to say to The Strain: It shouldn’t feel like a chore to watch a TV show, and sometimes you do. Fix yourself. I want to like you. I really do! Please stop making it difficult.
What do you all think? Did you give up on the first season like I did (I stopped watching after seven episodes and only recently binged the final six)? Or do you think I’m completely in the wrong and that the show is brilliant? Let me know in the comments below?
P.S. What happened to Bolivar’s manager (Regina King)? Did they really bring her on board for 3 episodes and not even kill her? She just got away? What a waste of a talented actress.