Saturday, October 11, 2014

Television Series Examination: The First Season of The Strain (2014)

I haven't reviewed a television series in a good long while. It's a difficult prospect simply because of the hours of content to a series of television shows. Characters are much more complex than they are in movies. Things move much slower as the episodes tend to be EPISODIC in nature, relying more on episode long plots rather than just focusing on the main narrative. It makes the television format incredibly different than movies, and incredibly different to review.

So, I guess my review should be on the merit of the program, how well it works at what it does, and if the characters and plots are compelling enough to make me keep watching over and over again. I think it succeeds in many arenas. I've obviously watched the entire first season, and I've enjoyed it enough to continue watching the second season as well. While I've never read Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's books about the same story, I find the story compelling nonetheless. I can't compare the written work to what's on the screen, but I do like what's on the screen.

Kind of.

I find the plot compelling in its simplicity. It reminds me of 'Salem's Lot in a big city. And coming from me that's certainly not a bad thing. It uses a plot of a vampire using vampire rules (kind of) to invade and corrupt New York from the inside out. The vampire, The Master, wants to invade the world of men and probably remake them all as this vampire worm-virus thing. He uses a former Nazi as his main lieutenant as well as a sick and dying businessman as his main force to control the information getting into and out of New York City. It's pretty well plotted for the most part, although some episodes are much better than others for that.

The characters are both the biggest issue of the show and the best part of it. For one, most of the actors here are relatively unknown or, at the very least, niche actors. I like that. I like that I don't recognize anybody but Argus Filch from the Harry Potter movies, and what a different character he plays here. The rest are all various forms of interesting, with my personal favorite being  Vasily Fet, who has the oddest human accent I have ever heard. And that's one of the major boons and issues here. The acting varies from fantastic to absolutely atrocious. It has to be something to do with the directors of the episodes or something, because the variance is bad enough to be incredibly noticeable. Vasily (Kevin Durand) is a great example of this. Sometimes he is absolutely questionable in his delivery. There are times that I wonder if he actually comes from this human Earth world. And then there are times when he is incredibly well put together. I don't blame the actor so much for this, although that could be an issue as well, but rather something about the WAY he delivers his lines. And he's not the only one. Every single actor at one point or another (with the exceptions of the Nazi and the Master) has the exact same issue. I've never seen it before. Sometimes one actor will be bad while the rest are perfectly acceptable. Sometimes all of them but one will be incredibly bad. And sometimes they're all fine except for a single line that is delivered in an utterly alien way.

I'm stressing the point, but it is such an important thing to stress. It takes me right out of the show while simultaneously maybe making the characters more human? I have no idea. I mean, I haven't stopped watching, and I enjoy watching it. I think the episodes have gotten better rather than worse as the season has gone on. But there has been so many little issues from the actor, the characters, and the plot. The fights ending in draws without any lasting victories is a big issue. It feels like a maintaining of the status quo rather than moving on with the plot at all. The final episode, although very solid, is exceptionally guilty of this, with the only thing that has really happened with our main cast is that they learned a tiny piece of plot out that they wouldn't have known otherwise.

I can see the acting issues literally forcing people to stop watching the show. It may not be the case absolutely, but I can see people being turned off by it. And I don't blame them even slightly for that. Somehow, it only bothers me when it shows up. Maybe because I've seen such bad acting in movies that slightly off acting really only bothers me slightly. I don't know. I'm focusing on the point though because it is a sticking point, and the one REALLY GLARING issue I have with the show.

I mean everything else is solid. The story is good. The production values are excellent. The make-up is superb, excellent to the point of being one of the best things about the show. And some of the acting is really good as well. The action is also quite good, definitely an important piece of the compelling nature of the show.

I guess the last thing I should talk about is the horror. And let me say that the horror is also quite excellent here. One of my biggest gripes about vampire stories is that they tend to not be scary. Beside Dracula and 'Salem's Lot I would have a very hard time really finding horrific vampire stories. Possibly 30 Days of Night as well. Maybe I Am Legend and The Historian, although neither of those books scared me at all. My point is, while the vampire is my favorite creature, I find very few of their stories compelling or scary. I've listed all of five other works that contain well done vampires that I can think of right this second. While there may be several others, this does not bode well in an age when vampires are considered more for their sexual prowess and passion than for their actual monster status. To me that's incredibly disappointing. I want scary vampires. I want frightening vampires. I want the creatures of the night to make me afraid to go out after dark.

I always have a focus on vampire movies or books with my reviews. The reason is that I love vampires. I love scary vampires. I love Nosferatu and its ilk. I love 'Salem's Lot and what has come from that.  And I love the granddaddy of great vampire stories, Dracula. And I want more of them in the world. Vampires as monster creatures are just so interesting and compelling, and so few people want to do anything with it.

And maybe that's why The Strain means something to me. Maybe that's why, in spite of the so-so pieces of the show at times, it gives me what I want in terms of vampire horror. It makes them scary again, frightening again, and worth it again. I don't think I'll ever forget in the first episode when the Master just slams a man's face into pulp. That's a scary vampire that is absolutely stunning to see on television. And that's really all I have to say. I love this show because it brings fear back to the vampires. And that should be enough of a recommendation from me.

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