The Strain never quite became the show it was intended to be. On one level it seemed meant to be a Walking Dead killer, the show that would make up for FX passing on the adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s hit comic book series – the one that would go on to become not only critic proof, but also one of the most watched shows on television. On another level, a level that has less to do with ratings and advertisement dollars and the squandered potential of spinoffs, The Strain was also intended to be the kind of series that brought action-horror to long-form storytelling in a way that hadn’t really been done before. Early ads for the series suggested the coming of a one-two punch for FX that, when combined with American Horror Story‘s enormous profile, would help the network in cornering the market on horror-themed television through very different means. As run by former Lost co-showrunner Carlton Cuse, the gritty tale of a vampire apocalypse based off a series of novels from Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan would eschew the maximalist approach to its genre elements used by Ryan Murphy’s series, giving fans a gory, gruesome, survival-horror experience with a visual and comic book-like design pedigree to turn it into a surefire hit. Instead, from the very first episode, ‘Night Zero’, the series that came out of the dark, foreboding marketing was an awkward and sometimes very silly show that seemed at once adorably oblivious to its own absurdity, yet self-aware enough to occasionally have fun with its own schlocky delivery.
Over the course of four seasons, The Strain was at times overly grim and too serious for its own good. But the closer the series got to its eventual endpoint – the destruction of the Master, who, in the final season, found the perfect host in the evil one percenter Eldrich Palmer (Jonathan Hyde) – it showed a demonstrable willingness to simply embrace the cheese and drop any pretense that this show was anything but what it is: a silly horror story that has more in common with schlocky midnight movies than the dour zombie series it was meant to slay. And it’s in that silliness that The Strain established its sense of fun; the kind of fun you have watching something kinda trashy make no attempt whatsoever to camouflage its trashiness.
With The Strain set to enter the giant streaming library in the sky this Sunday, it is time to appreciate that this gore-strewn horror series wasn’t just silly TV; it was gloriously silly in way that went a long way in making up for its other shortcomings. Before the series finale ‘The Last Stand’, lets take a look and appreciate just how splendidly dippy the show could be and why that made it all the more fun to watch.
Toupée of Not Toupée: Corey Stoll in a Hairpiece
The solid decision to cast notably bald actor Corey Stoll as lead protagonist Ephraim Goodweather was followed by the odd one to then fit him with a hairpiece that looked pilfered from the set of The Americans. In hindsight that move was really the only forecaster anyone needed in pre-determining what kind of series The Strain would prove to be. Let’s go over it again: Corey Stoll, fresh off his MVP performance (as a bald man) in Netflix’s House of Cards season 1was tasked with playing a man named, of all things, Ephraim Goodweather, who was destined to fight a horde of worm-infested vampires, and do so wearing what that looked the result of a drunken one-night-stand between the toupées of William Shatner and Burt Reynolds.
What may have been born of a simple note from the studio or producer unsure America was ready for a bald dude fighting vampires turned into a mini-controversy that took longer than expected to be rectified within the narrative. While The Strain eventually restored Stoll to his bald glory by having Eph ditch all that pesky hair, the show missed a golden opportunity to turn the hairpiece into a meta-joke about misplaced vanity. Still, in the annals of silly modifications and course correction on TV, Corey Stoll’s toupee deserves special recognition.
Vasiliy Fet: The Arnold Schwarzenegger of Rat Catchers
The Strain had some very interesting ideas in constructing an action hero, and over the course of four seasons it had a lot of fun playing around with those notions with characters like Goodweather, Ruda Gedmintas’ Dutch Welders, and especially David Bradley’s steely old vampire slayer Abraham Setrakian. But the standout among them was Kevin Durand’s Vasiliy Fet. An exterminator by way of the Ukraine, Fet’s chosen profession and encyclopedic knowledge of the tunnels running beneath New York were the sort of ultra-specific character details born completely of narrative necessity. An expert at killing vermin who knows every possible nook and cranny they might hide really is the perfect character to stand side-by-side with the guy whose job it is to investigate and contain infectious diseases. The thought that these two would find each other in the middle of an erratic apocalypse is another example of this show’s silliness.
What made Fet fun, though, wasn’t the character’s particular set of skills, but rather the way in which he was played. Durand infused Fet with an endearing kind of learned swagger, like he grew up watching John Wayne movies before switching to idolizing muscle-bound action heroes of the ’80s. As a result, whether Fet’s killing rats or vampires, he approaches each situation like he’s Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and an anthropomorphic stuffed bear won at Coney Island rolled into one. If you needed more evidence of this, his storyline in the final season involves him stealing a nuclear warhead and trying to bring it to New York with the hope that it will finally kill the Master. If that isn’t some ’80s action-movie plotting, I don’t know what is.
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