Directed in pilot form by Guillermo del Toro, who also adapted from his novel with Chuck Hogan, “The Strain” won’t premiere until July and there wasn’t a finished episode to send critics.
However, showrunner Carlton Cuse was sent before the TCA press tour audience as an emissary to answer a few questions and present the first teaser for the vampire drama.
“You’ll never look at vampires the same way again,” Cuse promises. “These are not sparkling, brooding dudes with fangs and romantic problems.”
Cuse promises these are “really scary creatures” and notes, “This is a really original reimagining of vampire lore and I think it also says some things about the precariousness of our modern world.”
How did the clips look?
Appropriate. I’m currently finishing up the second book in the trilogy and most of the imagery that we saw in the few minutes looked in-line with the book. We begin with a ghost 747 landing at JFK and a team of CDC investigators coming in to look at the aircraft full of corpses. The clips hinted at the book’s unflinching look at the biological possibilities of these creatures and also managed to look creepy and ominous at the same time.
The clips featured plenty of undead people, which might suggest that the vampirism has been pushed up a little earlier on the show than in the book, which makes sense. You can’t have a vampire show without vampires in the pilot. We saw some footage of the towering Master, some creepy blood worms and some of the debauchery surrounding rocker Gabriel Bolivar. We got very little dialogue from Corey Stoll as Eph Goodweather, so my biggest takeaway is that he has a lot of hair and looks very different as a result. I think Stoll is great casting, so I’m fine with not getting any more. We saw almost nothing from Mia Maestro’s Nora and since through nearly two full books, she’s still a non-character, I hope they’ve made same changes. Kevin Durand’s Vasiliy Fet, a favorite character from the books, didn’t seem to appear, but that probably fits with the chronology of the books. David Bradley, great casting as Setrakian, had one line in the trailer, but seemed appropriately wise and Eastern European.
Part of what I liked about the early chunk of the first book was the “Salem’s Lot”-esque interactions between vampires and their loved ones, seeing somebody you thought was dead come back and trying to cope with a monstrous return. The clips gave hints at that. I was already intrigued by the nearly unprecedented 18 months that FX gave Cuse and del Toro to develop the script and shoot the pilot and now work in post-production. Now I would like to see more.
FX has always said that “The Strain” was a close-ended piece of storytelling with a finite endpoint, though Cuse agreed that that endpoint might be flexible.
“It is between three and five seasons,” he says. “Hopefully in success we start breaking the second season of the show… There’s three books. The first season is the first book and so the question really is does each of the other two books lend itself to one season or two seasons. Like anything, a television series is kind of an organic entity and I think that once we’ve seen how this season plays out, once we’ve watched it, once we’ve finished writing this season, once we start breaking the second season, we’ll have a better sense of how many episodes we can get out of it. I love the fact that it is a close-ended show. The ‘Strain’ trilogy is a story with a beginning, middle and end and we are moving towards that ending and it’s a question of just exactly how many episodes it’ll be.
I also asked about the biological specificity of the book and how well they’ve been able to realize that on screen.
“One of the amazing things is that Guillermo and Chuck, in their books, it wasn’t just ‘Let’s invent our version of the vampires.’ It was something that was engineered all the way down to the actual biological systems,” Cuse agrees. “I spent a lot of time discussing with Guillermo the fact that these vampires feed and s*** at the same time and they have this incredibly elaborate biological mechanism that overtakes the regular human biology and all of that is detailed pretty thoroughly in the show.”
However, of course, it’s not like they’re adapting the book literally word-for-work, which is nice since as freaky as I find the books, they’re also a mixture of a couple good characters and a lot of fairly thin characters.
“We’re taking this book and turning it into 13 hours of television, so I think that the series actually, we’ve added a lot of new stuff, we’ve gotten deeper into our characters, we’ve invented new situations,” Cuse promises. “The books are well-represented in the show, but I think the series is a deeper and richer experience,” he teases.
The clips showed no actual carnage, only the aftermath — the bioluminescent ammonia-driven guano that Cuse mentioned — but the showrunner insists this will be something different for audiences.
“He’s a real visionary when it comes to creating monsters and fantasy worlds,” Cuse says of del Toro. “So these creatures, as imagined by Guillermo, I believe are really compelling, interesting and different than what you’ve seen before. I don’t really want to say too much about them, because I don’t want to spoil the reveal of them, but not unlike ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ I feel like Guillermo has brought real vision to the way these creatures have been realized that I think audiences will find really compelling.”
“The Strain” will premiere on FX probably in July.