Episode 1: Night Zero
SUMMARY: A CDC investigator, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) is called-in to investigate a “dead plane”. When the bodies of the victims start disappearing from the morgue, he beings to suspect something otherworldly and evil is behind the attack.
REVIEW: Right from the start, it's clear that no expense has been spared by FX in bringing Guillermo del Toro's THE STRAIN to TV. The cinematography, the music, the sets, everything is feature film calibre. Del Toro himself directed the pilot, and hopefully the show will stay so consistent, at least on a technical level. So far though, this feels as imaginative and well-conceived as any of del Toro's films (it certainly looks like one of his movies).
It kicks off with a bang, with a air-plane attack that feels like a cool, 21st century riff on the voyage of the Demeter from Bram Stoker's Dracula. The techno-thriller vibe, mixed with the paranormal, WW2 mythology, represented by David Bradley's Professor Abraham Setrakian, makes this feel like CONTAGION meets del Toro's own HELLBOY. As far as TV goes, it doesn't get more high concept than this, and FX – after FARGO and THE AMERICANS – continues to prove themselves as a really cutting edge channel.
The book series runs for three volumes, and this seems like it's going to take the GAME OF THRONES path in that they'll likely get through a book a season suggesting that if the ratings are good, we're in for an epic three years. While it's obviously too early to judge a show based only on the pilot, from the first frame this was an especially exciting ninety minutes. The mythology is clearly well thought-out, and hopefully del Toro, Hogan, and showrunner Carlton Cuse get to follow-through on the full potential of the series.
Certainly, the cast (that's been revealed so far) is terrific. Corey Stoll, as a fast-talking CDC hothot doctor, seems ideally cast. Stoll's proved himself in stuff like MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and HOUSE OF CARDS, so there's little doubt they've got themselves a dynamic lead. While the first scene in therapy with his estranged wife is a little cliché, Stoll seems excellent in the part even if his wig feels a little dopey (and clearly wig-like). Maybe as he ages over the seasons they'll ditch it. That's a pretty minor qualm though.
Another awesome idea is casting Brit David Bradley as Setrakian. Bradley's been amazing on UK shows like BROADCHURCH and the DR. WHO docudrama AN ADVENTURE IN SPACE AND TIME, so he seems like a pretty intriguing choice for a part that's already starting to steal scenes. His early disarming of VERONICA MARS' Francis Capra is both badass and clever. Clearly he's going to be great. Sean Astin doesn't get a chance to do much yet, but his final scene is pretty intriguing, with him being responsible for all the chaos that's to follow.
The CGI and creature design are clearly up to del Toro's usual standards. The first attack – where WISHMASTER's Andrew Divoff loses his head (literally) is spooky, and clearly FX isn't skimping on the gore. Putting THE STRAIN on Sunday, a night that's famously kind to genre fare like GAME OF THRONES and THE WALKING DEAD, seems like a canny choice – especially with both of those shows on hiatus.
Obviously, this is a pretty rad start to what looks to be an exciting new series with crazy potential. I can't wait to see how this is going to develop. While genre isn't being done especially well in movies these days, on TV it's in the middle of a renaissance. The gap between movies and TV is getting smaller and smaller, and this is another show that's narrowing that gap considerably. The lab attack with Neil Diamond's “Sweet Caroline” playing on the soundtrack is as cool as anything I've seen on the big screen this summer. Heck, maybe it's better. I can't wait for episode two.