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'The Strain' Series Premiere Recap: Cliches, Neglectful Fathers and Skull-Crunching Vampires

Adam Bellotto Adam Bellotto
July 14th, 2014 8:47am EDT

Still from The Strain

Few television shows begin with a series premiere roughly the length of a feature film.

But then, most television shows don't reward you at the halfway mark with a nine foot tall cloaked creature with a giant worm for a tongue that drains a man of all his blood and then pulverizes his face with its bare hands.

That should keep butts planted on couches.

The Strain, for those who don't know, is the hideously ugly love child of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Del Toro, of course, is the eccentric Mexican filmmaker behind films of varying degrees of whimsy and horrific disembowelment- "Pan's Labyrinth," "Hellboy," and "Pacific Rim," to name a few. Chuck Hogan is the writer who co-authored three "The Strain" novels with del Toro. Naturally, he's here to help with the TV series.

And because del Toro, who works almost exclusively with film and not TV, directed our first episode of "The Strain"- entitled "Night Zero"- the hour and forty minutes of television oozing across a nation's TVs last night were absolutely tremendous. Like watching a cutting edge horror film, only one that doesn't end at the actual ending, and still requires another twelve hours of story afterwards.

That story is this: Ephraim Goodweather, mediocre father/husband but top notch epidemiologist, is called in to investigate some strange-goings on at JFK International Airport. A plane goes off the grid, only to magically re-appear on the tarmac, ice cold and powered down and filled with human corpses. Goodweather, at first, doesn't have the slightest clue what's going on, but us at home, due to the power of that little synopsis that appears when you hit "info" on the remote, do. Vampires. The problem here is vampires.

This pilot's a tricky one. The opening sequence is a perfect little bite of tension; a few minutes of "what's in the cargo hold...?" that caps off with a burst of vampire glee. Then, we're introduced to the characters, who for now, are not the most unique ever invented. In no particular order, we have.

Goodweather, the typical "neglectful dad who's far too into his job."

Abraham Setrakian, a mystical old man who loves swords and conveniently knows everything there is to know about vampires.

An evilly German figure with untold power in the business world, and who also has weird vampire eyes.

A hispanic gang-member who says "puta" quite a bit.

A goth rocker who's really just into goth rock for this chicks. His father's a pastor, after all.

You'll notice that only the first two characters are actually listed with names. This is because, for the most part, there's nowhere near enough character development to really make any of these people name-memorable. At least for now.

But what "The Strain" does have going for it is that feature film level of quality. Because unlike some series, which might debut a two-hour episode and leave their audience bored into unconsciousness by minute 75, "The Strain" stays absolutely teeth-chattering throughout. Primarily because del Toro continually raises the creep factor, little by little, act break by act break, until suddenly out of nowhere nude eviscerated vampires are impaling a medical examiner with their giant snake tongues. Then, another good half hour to forty-five minutes of slow creep.

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