There are so many worthwhile intellectual endeavours you could be pursuing right now. You could be reading War and Peace, you could be learning Tagalog or how to code. You could re-watch The Wire and bask in the glory David Simon’s superbly realised portrait of the American city.
All that can wait, though, because you should be watching The Strain, Guillermo Del Toro’s masterpiece of the so-crap-it’s-good aesthetic.
I had been looking forward to The Strain for a while actually, but for different reasons all together. I thought it looked great, as in good television. The idea of taut procedural crossed with Grand Guignol horror seemed like a recipe for entertainment. I was also excited about a show that promised to reclaim the vampire from his current position of 21st century glow stick Casanova. Five minutes into the pilot, I realised that my expectations were oh-so desperately wrong. Don’t get me wrong: The Strain is still great — but it’s also irreparably awful.
In hindsight, I should’ve seen The Strain’s camp awfulness coming, series creator Guillermo Del Toro (who I now suspect is Garth Marengi in disguise) has been poised to give into the pulpy B-Movie darkness residing in his soul for a while now. It seeped in at the edges with the Hellboy films (great movies, in my opinion), and it became blatant in the monument to testosterone that was Pacific Rim. And now,The Strain: The logical culmination of Del Toro’s metamorphosis into a B-movie god.
Now I understand perfectly if you were to ask: Why the hell should I watch this? To answer your question, dear reader, here are my five reasons you should be watching this car crash of a TV show:
- Corey Stoll’s Wig
Corey Stoll will be familiar to any House of Cards viewers as the character Peter Russo. Now, anyone who knows him as an actor at all, knows this dude is bald. Not thinning hair, or comb-over — bald. Flat out, irretrievably bald.
And here is Corey Stoll portraying The Strain’s lead character Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather:
Look at that wig! LOOK AT IT! It’s fabulous, magnificent; the greatest achievement in hairpiece engineering since Donald Trump. It also begs the question, if having fabulous locks was the sine qua non for the character of Ephraim Goodweather: Why, in the name of Poseidon, did the creators of The Strain cast the one actor whose primary physical attribute is his baldness?
No matter, though, because getting to watch Stoll trying to be serious while donning hair that looks like a wicked cross between an Elvis wig and a mop is pure entertainment. The only thing that saddens me is that the show’s creators have said that Eph is gonna shave his hair off at some point this season. I suppose we will just have to enjoy it while it lasts.
- The hilarious stupidity/obliviousness of its characters
The incongruity between what the viewer knows and what the characters of The Strain know is something like I’ve never seen before. It’s like a reverse Lost. A few episodes in, the audience already knows the deal, we’ve seen the monsters do their work in broad daylight multiple times, in full view of the main characters. So surely the show’s characters have grown along side the audience and learned from these encounters?
The people that populate The Strain’s fictional universe are either blissfully unaware of the freaking vampire apocalypse unfurling all around them, or they are damn intent on keeping up a charade of disbelief. Ephraim Goodweather, for instance, is in the latter category. He has witnessed, first-hand, multiple vampires sucking the blood of the innocent, and yet he still throws shade when another character even so much as hints that this could be something a bit bigger than a disease pandemic. In another episode, I nearly fell out of seat as two FBI agents — that is, two law enforcement officers — watch as a vampire — his mouth covered in blood — charges through New York traffic and attacking drivers, only to nonchalantly quip, “not our problem”.
- Vasiliy Fet’s accent
Trying to decipher the proto-Ukrainian mumble of Vasiliy Fet (played by Kevin Durand) could be this year’s hottest pop culture inspired drinking game. One sip if you understand a word, two sips if you understand a sentence, finish your drink if you follow an entire conversation.
You ever see someone’s tongue swell up when they have an allergic reaction and when they try to speak their puffy tongues stifle their attempts at language? Now combine that with a bizarre, vaguely Eastern European accent, the actor Kevin Durand’s naturally deep voice, and then, my friends, you will have the most uniquely indecipherable accent in TV history.
What’s crazy is that, apparently, all the other characters of The Strain understand him perfectly. And me, the viewer, is left trying decode the ramblings of a man that makes Christian Bale’s Batman sound like the epitome of clear enunciation.
- The incredible fight choreography.
Get out of here The Raid, sorry Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — your fight choreography just been rendered inadequate.
The perennial highlight (lowlight?) is the action involving the character Abraham Setrakian (played by none other than Walder “Red Wedding” Frey, the scumbag!), a hard-boiled Holocaust survivor, who is somehow able to achieve perfect decapitations 100% percent of the time with the most casual swings of his sword. The Strain would have us believe that an old man with heart problems is able to not only handily defeat the supposedly fearsome vampires, but he somehow has the efficiency of a guillotine when it comes to slicing through the thick conglomeration of spine, sinew and cartilage that is the human neck.
And the vampires just calmly allow the sickly old man to do this to them. Their main combat tactic consists of ominously circling around prey at convenient sword’s length and hissing a whole bunch. I’m pretty sure The Count from Sesame Street has a higher strike rate than these fools.
- The stereotypes
Let’s play count the stereotype! Corey Stoll as the dashing, brilliant, and overworked father who has flourished in his career but floundered at home. Let’s not forget his nagging ex-wife and neglected, quietly intelligent son. Mia Maestro as his beautiful colleague who splits her screen time equally between acting terrified and just barely containing her sexual desire for Eph. Sean Astin as the bumbling, idiotic side kick who somehow managed to land a top job at the Centers for Disease Control despite providing no discernible value whatsoever. And my personal favourite, Thomas Eichorst, the almost impossibly Teutonic vampire who is a pastiche of every Nazi German character of the past 60 years.
Really, it’s as if Guillermo Del Toro assembled his characters from stock.