Based on the book trilogy by Guillermo del Toro ("Pacific Rim") and Chuck Hogan, who are producing the show with Carlton Cuse ("Lost"), "The Strain" is not for the queasy, something FX's promotion has made clear. But it's also not for people who like their vampires to look like underwear models.
I'm more than a little horror-challenged, but as graphic as it is - and it's plenty graphic - "The Strain" is to me far less grotesque than stories featuring young girls who long to be "turned" by their undead lovers.
Eschewing creepy romance for a pretense of realism, del Toro and Hogan approach a potential epidemic of reanimated savages like a procedural, placing the whole mess in the laps of a few hardy investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Embracing disaster-movie cliches wherever possible, they've painted lead investigator Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) as a maverick workaholic (and alcoholic) who's already in the process of losing his family when he's called in to investigate a darkened plane at New York's JFK Airport whose passengers and crew have failed to disembark.
Sean Astin and Mia Maestro play members of Goodweather's team, while the always interesting David Bradley ("Broadchurch," "Harry Potter") plays a Holocaust survivor with some very definite ideas about how Goodweather should proceed. Richard Sammel plays a particularly creepy bad guy who's got Nazi written all over his face - assuming that's really his face.
Let's just say, stereotypes abound.
And yet, while I seesawed between unimpressed and grossed out for much of the pilot, by the third episode, the best of the series so far, some of the characters had been fleshed out (and yeah, there's probably a better way of putting that). By the fourth, I was finally getting a feel for what "The Strain" might be capable of as it slowly revealed some real-world horrors that may have been there all along.
'Ray,' 'Masters' return
Two of Showtime's heavy hitters return Sunday, as "Masters of Sex" and "Ray Donovan" each launch their second seasons.
It's a tricky time for any drama, but maybe more so for a show like "Masters," which achieved considerable surprise in simply telling the (mostly) true story of the sex research that William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) were conducting way back in the prudish 1950s, and of their own somewhat irregular participation.
How do you top that? "Masters of Sex" isn't trying, at least not in the two episodes I've seen, instead doubling down on the characters and situations from Season 1. Showing people having sex while wired up to machines may have gotten viewers in the door, but it's the characters and the performances that should keep them there.
"Ray Donovan," meanwhile, continues to find its way.
The show about a Hollywood fixer has added a number of guest stars, including Hank Azaria, Sherilyn Fenn and Wendell Pierce, none of whom has yet made me care as much about the dysfunctional relationship between Ray (Liev Schreiber) and his father (Jon Voight) as about whatever's going on between Ray and his wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson).
Abby probably can't fix what's wrong with Ray, but if I'm still watching by the end of this season, it'll be because Malcomson's still in there trying.
On Twitter: @elgray