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TV Review: 'The Strain: Night Zero'

The Strain

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Guillermo del Toro's new much-hyped vampire series 'The Strain' debuted on FX July 4, 2014. So how does it stack up against the current slate of horror television shows? Minor Spoilers follow:

Corey Stoll  in 'The Strain' pilot 'Night Zero'
Corey Stoll in 'The Strain' pilot 'Night Zero'Corey Stoll in 'The Strain' pilot 'Night Zero'

Well, if the pilot episode, 'Night Zero' is any indication, it has it's merits and detriments. The series (which is based off of a comic series created by del Toro and show producer Chuck Hogan) kicks off with a doomsday clock element, as there are various timer demarcations to foreshadow impending doom. A airline jet arrives on a tarmac with a seemingly dead crew. And it's the question of what caused the demise that fuels the series.

But to get to the plot elements we must first sift through the introductions of various characters, who are all deeply cliched. Our protagonist is Epidemiologist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (played by 'House of Card's' Corey Stoll), who assumes the umpteenth pop culture incarnation of 'man-so-devoted-to his-work-that-his-family-life-is crumbling' as illustrated in an eye-rolling couple counseling scene.

And wouldn't you know it, he gets a call during said session about said plane, setting the plot into motion.He's assisted by a co-worker/sometime lover Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) and schlubby assistant Jim Kent (Sean Astin.) They're flummoxed by how the crew and passengers of the plane died as they appear (at first) to have no sign of injury. But when they find a scant few survivors, they're even more mystified as to what factor makes them apparently immune to the unknown pathogen.

Del Toro helmed this episode and it has many of his familiar touches. And when the series hones in on his love of creepy crawlies it excels; there's a massive cabinet discovered in the plane's storage space, holding the source of the virus, which leads to some sublime gross-out scenes and unique blood sucker antagonists of various sizes. It also brings in another character, a wizened pawn shop owner who comes across like a later day Van Helsing (played by British actor, and Willie Nelson lookalike David Bradley) and lays claim to knowing what's unleashed this evil upon the world.

It's apparent that 'The Strain' has more on it's mind than a basic apocalyptic thriller; there appears to be political motivations and connections with the vampire threat and wealthy aristocrats, who are perhaps Nazi in nature.

If the series focuses more on these elements and skips the cliched character stuff it'll provide more thrills for genre fans. Previews of upcoming episodes look promising, and given the weakest episode of many series is the pilot ('Seinfeld', anyone?), 'The Strain' has the potential to be a pulse pounding thriller, rather than a bloodless exercise.

'The Strain' airs on the FX network Sundays at 9pm central time.