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TV review: Gory ‘Strain’ is too inconsistent

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Corey Stoll investigates a not-quite-dead young girl in FX’s vampire thriller The Strain.

Two and a half stars

The Strain Sundays, 10 p.m., FX.

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain is quite the multimedia property: It started as a trilogy of novels co-written by del Toro and Chuck Hogan, which were then adapted into a comic-book series and have now become a TV show on FX. Del Toro and Hogan are the show’s co-creators, del Toro directed the pilot, and Hogan is one of the main writers, so it’s safe to say that their vision has remained intact in its transition from page to screen. That vision isn’t as distinctive as del Toro’s best films (dark, complex stories like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone), but it is different enough from other supernatural shows on TV that it should attract some interest from horror fans.

The Strain is a vampire show, but, as the title implies, it takes a clinical, scientific approach to vampirism, treating it as a parasitic disease that follows very specific biological impulses. The show’s main character (the ludicrously named Ephraim Goodweather, played by House of Cards’ Corey Stoll) is a doctor with the Centers for Disease Control, and he and his team have specific medical explanations for everything that’s happening to the people who suddenly start shunning sunlight and drinking blood. The Strain is clearly set up as a counterpoint to sexy-vampire shows like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries, and while it’s a little too silly to be genuinely scary, it does succeed in making vampires really, really gross.

The problem is that the gross-out is pretty much The Strain’s highest achievement, and it’s less successful at creating a convincing vampire apocalypse (The Walking Dead may have its problems, but it never has trouble selling the idea that the world has ended), which proceeds inconsistently over the course of the four episodes available for review. Despite a large ensemble cast that includes some strong actors, the show also falters when it comes to character development (it’s hard to care about Ephraim’s custody battle for his son when the fate of the entire world is at stake). As a delivery system for nasty gore, The Strain is a success, but as a sweeping story of the end of days, it’s pretty underwhelming.

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