There’s a great moment, about half way through the TV version of The Strain when the cool vampires turn up, all tactical and covered in firearms and just rule the screen for a couple of minutes. It’s an end of episode cliffie, and I switched off the TV and went off to work thinking “Finally, this thing is rolling out the good stuff”. Then del Toro and crew played Lucy with the football on me for the next six or seven episodes and we didn’t see the cool vampires until the last two episodes, where they wander back in briefly to make Gus the most ridiculous job offer ever, and honestly by that stage I was just glad they’re all going to get butchered off screen next season, because if you’re going to make that little use of the concept, why even bother?
I’ve made no secret of my contempt for the books, although early on I had nursed the hope that del Toro would take some of the ideas buried in them and make three half way good looking movies out of them. There was about one movie’s worth of stuff in each book, I reckoned. That works out to a hell of a lot less than 13 TV episodes of anything worth looking at, even if you’d done the honest thing and made all three books into one 13 episode event. Trying to stretch the first book into 13 TV hours; that’s a strain, is what it is.
I was watching the thing side by side with Penny Dreadful, which is pretty much of an overstuffed baggy mess with too many characters and not enough plot, but which survives on the strength of characters you want to see more of. Eva Green holds the whole thing up even when it’s threatening to collapse all around her, but the other actors rise to their material. The weakest link is probably Josh Hartnett, who’s just flat and mopey when everyone around him is intense, but if you put even Josh Hartnett into The Strain, everyone else would just fade out by comparison. There’s no-one to root for in The Strain; the villains are either awful or interchangeable mooks, and the heroes? Oy gevalt. Abraham Setrakian is Armenian Van Helsing being played by Canadian Morgan Freeman. Vassily Fet, a role reportedly written specifically for the great Ron Perlman, is played by a ringer who gives the good guys pretty much the only person the viewers can root for. After that, it all goes off a cliff. If you’ve got the entire end of the world, you don’t need a family drama as well, but even if you did, no-one needs the Goodweather family. I was watching the new Homeland last night, and Corey Stoll got stomped to bits by a mob; I couldn’t help wishing the mob had found its way to New York.
The books had a couple of neat ideas, and a lot of terrible writing. The TV show’s got all the ideas, and way more of the writing. How did I not see that coming?