Guillermo del Toro talks new vampire series 'The Strain'

The Strain

The Strain

Bill Harris, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:42 PM ET

There's no question about The Strain of command.

The Strain, a new vampire-based series that debuts Sunday, July 13 on FX Canada (and FX in the U.S.) comes from the brain of acclaimed filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. Creatively, visually, philosophically, this is del Toro's baby.

In fact, del Toro has been formulating this show in his head virtually since he was a baby. But as anyone who has worked with varying degrees of deadlines can attest, sometimes thinking about something for so long doesn't necessarily help it. After a while, you run the risk of not being able to see the forest for the trees, or in this case, the vampires for the fangs, or whatever.

What we have in The Strain is a show that is visually and narratively ambitious, putting a different spin on vampires, for sure. But the characters are a little cookie-cutter-ish at first bite, so I hope they get fleshed out as the series continues.

“We want to turn the vampire myth on its ear and also give you very familiar characters,” del Toro acknowledged. Familiar has its advantages in terms of accessibility, but you don't want to go too far with it, you know?

As The Strain begins, a plane lands in New York City having lost all communication with air traffic control. Everyone on board is presumed dead. Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), head of the Center for Disease Control's Canary Project, and his team are called upon to investigate.

It appears to be a mysterious viral outbreak. But it gets creepier when Harlem pawnbroker Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) races to the airport, convinced that the problem might be something far more sinister, with which he oddly is familiar.

One of the quibbles I had with the first episode of The Strain is that certain things which seemed obvious to me were not immediately obvious to the characters. At least for a while, they appeared to be living in a world where nobody had heard of vampires, even in a fictional sense. Dracula by Bram Stoker? Doesn't ring a bell.

Not that the vampires in The Strain have any easy connection to the vampires we've come to know in hundreds of books and movies and TV shows. Along that vein, del Toro's vampires aren't smooth and dashing. They're basically insects who need to feed.

“It's not a girl in a nightgown by the moonlight with George Hamilton sucking softly on her neck,” del Toro said. “It's truly, truly much more parasitic than that. This is an alternative view of vampirism as a plague.

“The relationship we have with parasites is symbiotic, meaning, I can tell you something very shocking right now: Everybody has parasites. I'm sorry to say, you have parasites. But you're functional. What I was intrigued by was, could these creatures (vampires) have been co-existing with us for over 2,000 years with us not knowing about them? And if so, can we reveal them slowly (over the course of three books that del Toro co-wrote, upon which the TV series is based)?

“It just takes one of them, the master, to go rogue for the whole precarious balance to be upset.”

By design, the humans in The Strain are everyday people, not superheroes. They don't wear masks and have a secret cave full of weapons.

“I wanted fallibility to be beautiful,” del Toro said. “I didn't want the heroes to be great. I wanted them to do things that were wrong. This is, of course, before things like Breaking Bad, which has taken it to the 'nth' degree. But I truly love having characters that are not always right.”

It's hard to be right when the world is going decidedly wrong. That's the dilemma for the characters in The Strain.

The series is both bloody fresh and a bit 'gamey' at the same time. Either way, you may want to brush up on your high school biology.

Twitter: @billharris_tv

bill.harris@sunmedia.ca


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