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Herc Finds Himself Locked In The Thrall Of Del Toro & Cuse’s FX Vampire Series THE STRAIN!!

I am – Hercules!!

“Lost” showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof are going head-to-head on Sunday nights this summer, with Cuse’s vampire series “The Strain” taking on Lindelof’s HBO strangeness “The Leftovers” at 10 p.m. for the next several weeks.

Cuse also serves as showrunner to A&E’s “Bates Motel,” and I must say I’m growing quite impressed with his post-“Lost” career – and I’m quite looking forward to see how he adapts the French zombie series “The Returned” into an American version for A&E.

Tonight’s “Strain” pilot was co-written and directed by prolific and versatile filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (“Mimic,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Hellboy,” “Pacific Rim”) based on the series of novels authored by del Toro and Chuck Hogan.

With its preoccupation with a veteran vampire hunter named Abraham and the transportation of a massive vampire coffin across water, it is very much an update of Stoker’s “Dracula,” but also another tale of heroic Center For Disease Control (CDC) operatives like the ones we saw in Soderbergh’s “Contagion” and Syfy’s ongoing “Helix” Series.

“Strain’s” CDC scientists find themselves coping with an outbreak of something they don’t realize at first is vampirism.

The first episode’s early scenes may remind some of the “Fringe” pilot, which was co-scripted by “Lost” co-creator J.J. Abrams. The action starts on jetliner readying to land at JFK International. Before long it’s sitting silently and mysteriously on the aiport tarmac. The control tower can’t make radio contact with the pilots inside -- and all manner of government employee converges on the aircraft in an effort to solve the mystery.

Lead character Eph Goodweather – a recovering alcoholic whose all-consuming CDC job has driven his wife into the arms of douchy romantic rival – is played by Corey Stoll, who was last seen as the troubled bald congressman in “House of Cards” but here sports a luxurious leading-man head of hair that puts Billy Bob Thornton’s to shame. His CDC colleages are played by ex-hobbit Sean Astin and Argentinian “Twilight” series vet Mia Maestro. The Van Helsing character is played by the great David Bradley, who embodied the hilarious and vengeful Walder Frey in “Game of Thrones” -- and brings a lot of verve to the cranky old slayer.

Some of series will cause eyes to roll (Why does the Renfield character assign such an all-important task to a seemingly unreliable hothead barrio thug? And why can’t the crafty old vampire hunter figure out a more convincing way to warn the CDC officials?) but a lot of it is compelling enough to make me burn through the first four episodes -- and leave me wanting more.

Some like it more than others:

Hitfix says:

... packed with so much macabre imagery and so many clever ideas that it doesn't feel like the resuscitation of a tired genre, but the launch of something new and fun.

HuffPost TV says:

... What may be most shocking about the FX show is how dull, uninteresting and hollow all the characters are. Despite a great deal of visible effort, the first four episodes of "The Strain" never succeeded in making Corey Stoll's epidemiologist character even remotely compelling. …

The New York Times says:

... Given the involvement of Mr. del Toro, director of films like “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy,” you approach “The Strain” anticipating some style and brio, a hope reinforced by the presence of Carlton Cuse (“Lost”) as showrunner. The first episode, then, is worrisome: It’s a little dawdling and predictable and unsure of its tone, with cardboard characters and flat dialogue. Things pick up after that, though — once everyone’s been brought onstage and the story set in motion, the episodes have more snap, and the horror scenes go from pedestrian to actually creepy. …

The Los Angeles Times says:

... What it's doing on FX, besides working against brand, I'll never know. But by the time Eph absurdly dismisses the advice of David Bradley's insightful old stranger (for God's sake, Eph, the man just described carnage he has not seen and he's carrying a cane topped by a silver wolf's head; listen to him!), I was having a great old time. …

The Washington Post says:

... The better parts of “The Strain” will unsettle viewers with this new species of monster, a threat that spreads in a novel way that isn’t easily explained. That’s also part of the show’s initial stumble — in establishing characters caught up in a contagion crisis, the creators and writers are also apparently still trying to figure out how a TV series works in 42-minute increments. The first couple of episodes seem as if they’ve been assembled from a kit that’s missing a few nuts and bolts; by the third and fourth episodes, however, a viewer gets a much better sense of “The Strain’s” style and bite. …

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says:

... more commercial and less reality-based than other FX efforts, but it is enjoyably weird. … isn’t great TV but it offers enough unexpected gross-out moments that it’s OK summer popcorn fare.

The San Francisco Chronicle says:

... isn't great, but it isn't entirely awful either. … Although most of the script is ham-fisted, props to the writers for at least allowing the central story line to unfold naturalistically. That may be because it would be impossible to jam all the exposition into Sunday's premiere, but still, the show does adequately build suspense.

The Boston Globe says:

... “The Strain” definitely won’t be love at first bite for some. But if you’re a vampire geek who likes ooky scares, there’s stuff to enjoy here, from the pulpy vampires-as-parasites premise — they have a particularly “Alien”-esque element of their physiognomy that is startlingly nasty — to the over-the-top dramatics of a cautionary tale about man’s inhumanity to man, undead or alive.

TV Guide says:

... deliciously freaky and gruesomely graphic … This could, and deserves to be, FX's Walking Dead-sized blockbuster. … So generous in its jolts that you barely have time to dwell on the plot holes, The Strain may not be the most original thrill ride, but it's among the summer's most enjoyable, elevating its genre clichés with a pulp urgency that, like the monster's icky wormy offspring, gets under your skin and stays there. …

USA Today says:

... Enter The Strain (* * * * out of four), which just may turn out to be the best-executed, most cleverly constructed and most universally enjoyable fright-monger of them all. … The Strain has made it from page to screen with amazing and (one hopes) crowd-pleasing success …

Variety says:

... At times the portentous dialogue can sound hokey, but for the most part, the slick pilot and three subsequent episodes set the tone for a series with enough of a hook to get under one’s skin. …

10 p.m. Sunday. FX.


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