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Debugging Network TV: Stopping "The Strain" Before It Started 

Tuesday, Jul 29 2014

I had a nightmare. I was some sort of insect and I was high up in the corner of a large television studio boardroom. There was a halogen lamp that I had to avoid out of fear of being incinerated. When I hopped too far over near its crater, the heat would repel me back. (I was a katydid.) This somehow morphed into thoughts of the so-called "super volcano" that has folks in Yellowstone on edge. If this baby blows, the U.S. will be destroyed from California to Tennessee. Remember the end of Fantasia and how the dinosaurs died in it? Yeah, that's what's in store. So a lot was running through my little bug head.

I looked down over the long table of executives and writers. The writers were the ones in the Joyce Manor T-shirts. The business dudes were in ties. "Get this," says one of the business guys, holding his hands up to make a fake camera lens. All he needed was jodhpurs and a megaphone. "We'll hop on this whole vampire thing, bring in Guillermo Del Toro..."

"Oh, he's hot," says the only female writer.

"No, not Benicio Del Toro, Guillermo. He looks like Diego Rivera. Made Pan's Labyrinth."


At this juncture I can clearly make out that I am in the offices of FX and they are talking about The Strain, the new show that combines pandemics with vampires and zombification. I know — so '03. Calamity sells. Just ask Yellowstone.

I rub my back legs together and sigh. So many bad decisions went into the making of this show, and they all happened right here. I was witnessing it. Was I supposed to intervene? Was I supposed to chirp and create a swarm that engulfed the room? A calamity to stop this calamity?

Mistake No. 1: The vampire arrives at an airport on the first episode, but all the employees see is a gigantic, satanic box of dirt with a latch on the inside and nothing else. Hmm ... curious. "What do you suppose that is?" they all ask one another. In this alternative universe, no one has ever seen Dracula. Okay, fair enough, let's suspend our disbelief. Mistake No. 2: Casting Corey Stoll from House of Cards as the main investigator, but giving him a shitty hairpiece and the nickname "F." This of course results in actual exchanges where people say, "Hey F, you...." Third mistake: Throw the CDC at the problem even though there's initially no sign of anything contagious happening to anyone. Eventually, we realize that there are these worm things that probably transmit vampirism, but the main threat seems to be the big guy who looks like Nosferatu — another movie no one in this city has ever seen.

"Sir?" says a writer in my dream. "Isn't the whole sarcophagus with dirt thing a bit, um, overused? How about our guy at least gets transported via a lawn sod company or something." He is shot down.

Suddenly I'm in the pawn shop of the guy who is basically the Van Helsing of this trainwreck, David Bradley as Abraham Setrakian. He's a grizzled Miss Marple, someone who looks weak and withered but might just save the day, folks. Will no one listen to him when he says there's danger afoot? He has a heart in a jar and it moves; he feeds it blood. He's got Nosferatu's number all right. Until he can get the CDC on board, he's the only one who recognizes the peril humanity faces. "I only last eight episodes," he tells me. (I guess he noticed me perched on a desk clock.)

I want to tell him it's okay, that I can't see this show lasting more than a season anyway. There's too much going on, and it's way too derivative. Whenever big-time directors get involved in TV it usually goes horribly wrong (except for Ridley Scott and The Good Wife), though, to be fair, Alicia Florrick isn't going to be giving birth to an alien creature.

If I could speak, I would tell David he's a great character actor anyway, and will always find work even after this show tanks. Television is a fickle mistress. But all I can do is chirp and rub my back legs together.

Whirr whirr whirr.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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