Photo: Michael Gibson / FX

'We're Gonna Need More Eyeballs,' Said The FX Exec

Guillermo del Toro brings TV a gory vampire series.

What Is This Thing?

On TV today, gruesome, grim shows about life at the edge of an apocalypse abound, from Walking Dead to The Leftovers, so why not let a guy with some big-screen experience (writer/director Guillermo del Toro) stretch out his legs on TV with a series based on a trilogy of horror novels he co-wrote? This show is about creepy vampires from Europe who arrive in New York City via a commercial airliner (frugal!), having infected all the passengers. From there, New York City becomes home to a viral outbreak, and to a war between the vampires and a group of vampire hunters.

When Is It On?

Sundays at 10 PM on FX.

What Was It Made Now?

Have you seen the ratings for The Walking Dead? Gross-out, pulpy shows with mild cursing and special effects out the wiz-wang are money in the bank. However, after watching the first few episodes, I can't help wondering if this story wouldn't have resonated more a few years back when the post-9/11 themes about national security and the disease fears we had after seeing Contagion would have made it even creepier.

What's Its Pedigree?

This was a TV show based on a trilogy of novels that were originally conceived as a TV show, then turned into novels when that TV show failed to materialize, then adapted into graphic novels, and then turned into a TV show. Del Toro is responsible for big thrills on low budgets in films like Hellboy and the frankly gorgeous Pan's Labyrinth, but he also made the giant-budget Pacific Rim, which was not everybody's cup of tea despite being a big, awesome cup of bad-ass tea. Del Toro wrote and directed the extended pilot episode here, and his novel co-writer Chuck Hogan also does some writing duty on the show.

...And?

Del Toro knows how to set up a supernatural mythology well, and there's enough hint-dropping of deeper mysteries and occult histories in the pilot to keep it interesting. The budget limitations of TV mean we get a lot of bland interiors (hospital hallways, a generic AA meeting room) and modest monsters. But the scenes that are meant to be suspenseful, like a sweep through a plane full of seemingly dead people and some vampire blood-draining in future episodes, are legit scary and very well-made. The show also has a refreshingly diverse cast, including Francis Capra from Veronica Mars and Mexican actress Adriana Barraza.

...But?

The characters and dialogue are almost uniformly awful -- at least in the pilot, which features the most unlikeable want-to-punch-his-smug-assface character in recent memory, Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (that name, ugh), as played badly by Corey Stoll from House Of Cards. He's a bad father who thinks that admitting he's a bad father somehow makes him less of a bad father; an insufferable know-it-all about his job as a Centers for Disease Control ranger; and a former alcoholic who goes to AA meetings with a sarcastic voice and a list of bad character traits he recites off the script. His character improves in subsequent episodes, but only a little. Mia Maestro, on the hand, is saddled with playing a doctor, Nora Martinez, who is little more than a sidekick to Dr. Goodweather (that goddamn name, ugh), there to back up his wacky contagion theories and to get kissed on the mouth by Ephraim because they formerly had an affair. Soon after, he tells everyone at an AA meeting that his son is all he has left. Dick move, Ephraim! We know laughably little about Nora's home life, her interests, her personality, or anything other than what we see reflected of Ephraim, which is a shame. Part-time Hobbit Sean Astin works with these two losers and gets to run around the airport looking all cute and in charge, and even when it looks like he may have done something really really bad, you're like, "Aw, The Shire and whatnot." The bad guys are more intriguing, though they suffer from something worse than The Strain: Eastern European Unspecified Rich White Villain's Disease! Sadly, there is no known cure. The two standouts appears to be a douchey Marilyn Manson-style rock star character named Gabriel Bolivar, and Abraham the vampire hunter who is old and isn't gonna take any shit from these bloodsuckers.

...So?

If you can shut your brain off enough to get through a bunch of C.S.I. mumbo-jumbo dialogue and Dr. Goodweather (that fucking name, ugh) and his boring custody hearing problems (the son is cute, but his dad is a dick), there's enough gore and suspense to satisfy most horror fans. Each episode tends to end with a scary set piece, and the series appears to be reaching for a little bit of zombie pathos (some of the airline passengers come back to life) in addition to all the vampire story set-up. Much has been made of the unique character designs and monster choices and though they're not going to make you forget about IMAX big-screen effects, they're effective on the small screen. If you're anxiously awaiting Walking Dead to return in October, this might drain some time for you. Because blood! Blah!

For Bad-Ass Week we present:

A partial list of famous vampires in decreasing order of blood-sucking-bad-osity!

  • Blacula
  • Dracula
  • Blade*
  • George Hamilton in Love At First Bite
  • Eli from Let The Right One In
  • Spike from Buffy
  • Lestat
  • All those lame-os on True Blood
  • Angel

* Blade is half-vampire and can walk in daylight, which is kind of bullshit

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