TV Review: ‘The Strain' -- Too much and still not enough
The problem with horror, as with most film and TV genre templates, is that because ev ery thing's been done al ready, writers get nervous and throw in too many extraneous ideas.
That's the biggest mistake co-creators Guillermo del To ro ("Pan's Labyrinth") and Chuck Hogan make with "The Strain," premiering 10 p.m. Sunday on FX, but, alas, it's not the only one.
The show, based on the novel by the two, isn't great but it isn't entirely awful either. "The Strain" is about a workaholic investigator for the Cen ters for Disease Control nam ed Ephraim -- his friends call him Eph -- Goodweather, played with convincing ear nest ness by Corey Stoll.
Eph and his colleague Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) are called in when an airliner lands in New York and no one gets off. In fact, there's no indication of life aboard the plane at all. Inside, Eph and Nora find that except for four people, every passenger and crew member is dead, and there's no indication of the cause except for some icky stuff that shows up under black light.
At this point, Hogan and showrunner Carlton Cuse, the designated writers of the series, start overstuffing the script. First, we have to get to know how difficult Eph's life is. Right now he's battling ex-wife Kelly (Natalie Brown) for shar ed cus tody of their son, Zack (Ben Hyland). Eph loves his kid and still loves his wife, an affair with Nora notwithstanding, but his job is de manding and he gives in to those demands because if he doesn't get to the bottom of these mysterious cases, who will?
Meanwhile, there's a strange old man named Abraham Sethrakian (David Bradley) who runs a curio shop and keeps a human heart in a glorified pickle jar in his back room.
Sethrakian knows what kill ed the people on the plane and it's connected to a huge box of dirt found in the cargo hold.
But wait there's more. We also have World War II Nazis who don't seem to age, Wash ington bureaucrats who pre dict ably reject the suggestion the entire port of New York needs to be shut down to contain "The Strain," and a very wealthy old coot on the point of death who is willing to make a Faustian bargain to stay alive.
"The Strain" is watchable, but honestly, that isn't good enough when you're talking Guillermo del Toro and FX. In both cases, we expect more. We do get "more" in one re gard -- more plot strings than anyone needs -- but not enough precision, quality of writing and performances, and, mostly, in spired directorial vision.