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THE STRAIN and THE LEFTOVERS… supernatural TV shows with potential?

Posted on July 18th, 2014
Posted on July 18th, 2014

by Coop Cooper

The Strain” (FX channel Mondays at 9pm Central) – “The Strain” is a modern update of “Dracula” that mixes science into the mysticism of vampires. When a international flight from Berlin lands in New York with all of the crew and passengers either dead or in some strange state of hibernation, Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and his Center for Disease Control team investigate, suspecting a rare viral outbreak. They soon discover a giant sarcophagus filled with dirt, teeming with worm-like parasites. After a series of brutal deaths, they begin to suspect that something larger is responsible for the outbreak and is attempting to escape the airport. Meanwhile, a shadowy millionaire (Jonathan Hyde), who arranged the delivery of the sarcophagus, attempts to secure it while a mysterious old pawn broker with a sword cane (David Bradley) tries to convince Goodweather to destroy the coffin before it leaves the airport.

Adapted from a series of comic books, this story isn’t very original as it culls many derivative ideas from a multitude of horror films. It suffers from a few cliches, especially when it comes to Stoll’s Goodweather who is a tiresome ‘A-type, family-neglecting workaholic jerk who is the only one smart enough to save the world’ character. There is no great acting here, not even from the reliable Sean Astin as Goodweather’s sidekick who betrays him for no discernible reason.

What is good here are the scares. This is a creepy show, from the nasty worm creatures to the impossibly fast and deadly monster they spawn from. There is one particularly frightening scene where a scientist is performing autopsies on the bodies of the passengers only to have them wake up in various states of disasemblage to attack him. The big ‘Dracula’ creature is very intimidating as well, especially when it escapes the plane and takes down his first victim in a surprisingly brutal fashion.

I’ve grown very tired of vampire movies and shows over the past several years and while I’m not sold this one can go the distance, the pilot was exciting and suspenseful enough to encourage me to sit through a few more episodes. The show is going to have to create an interesting mythology and a likeable group of characters if it’s going to survive. I don’t see that yet, but if it can achieve that in the next several episodes, it might take off.

Rating: 3 out of 5


The Leftovers” (HBO Sundays at 9pm Central) – This show takes place five years after 2% of the world’s population suddenly disappeared without warning, leaving behind a world of very depressed people with no answers who struggle to move on with life. In the small town of Mapleton, NY, Police Chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) deals with the issues arising in his melancholy town directly or indirectly caused by the ‘departure’. His teenage daughter (Margaret Qualley) engages in increasingly risky and disturbing behavior with her friends and his older son (Chris Zylka) has joined some sort of out-of-state cult that worships a bizarre anti-christ-like figure who only consults with the wealthy and cultural elite. Meanwhile, Garvey’s own wife (Amy Brenneman) has joined a hometown cult where the members take a vow of silence, wear all white and chain-smoke while recruiting new members. Garvey soon suspects the departure was only a precursor to a larger event when he witnesses formally docile neighborhood dogs forming vicious, bloodthirsty packs… or is he beginning to go insane like his father (Scott Glenn)?

One of the downsides to this series is that the main characters spend the majority of their time moping or engaging in self-destructive behavior rather than moving the story forward. I can see that this is utilized to develop characters and to create a somber mood, but the first two episodes completely wallow in it. The third episode redeems all of this with a suspenseful segment in which the town minister (Christopher Eccleston) goes to shocking lengths to keep the bank from foreclosing on his parish which is his only personal beacon of hope.

While “The Strain” had a more eventful and engaging pilot, I’d say “The Leftovers” has a slow burn that might ultimately become more interesting for viewers, especially since Damon Lindelof, one of the creators of the series “Lost” is the show runner. Lindelof knows suspense while “The Strain” creator Guillermo Del Toro primarily creates one-shot creature features. Both could ultimately become disappointments as so many TV shows do, but if one of these were to succeed (although I hope both do), I’d put my money on “The Leftovers.”

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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