A little late on the bandwagon, but after beginning the journey into The Strain TV show, I couldn't help but address it. As a fan of Guillermo del Toro's eye for the macabre, I find myself embarassingly tardy to the party. Perhaps it was too strong a focus on the cinematic offerings of horror or a jaded perspective on what the television horror genre had to offer. I can't think of many horror-based TV productions since the X-Files that have actually fulfilled the criteria necessary to produce a quality show that is both entertaining and enthralling. Horror shows often lack the production budget necessary to properly create the world. This is a common problem in horror films as well, but it is exacerbated in television because of the commitment to season-long production.
It is the ultimate conundrum for production executives, and rarely does a horror show pass the gauntlet. How do we get a horror show greenlit through the pilot episode? How do we get the actors needed to deliver a solid script and still have enough money to commit to the special effects? This is the catch-22 of horror TV shows. Almost always, one of these factors suffer. If you get good actors, you can't afford the effects. If you have good effects, your writing and actors suffer. And then, this shortcoming, whichever it may be, leads to a short air time.
Therefore, it takes a production staff willing to take the leap of faith to produce something of value with standing power. The best model to follow to date would be The Walking Dead. That show had the perfect approach entering its adolescent stages. It was low-key enough to keep relatively minimal amounts of effects to certain moments. Quality over quantity. This made the focus on the characters and dialogue, which led to a loyal audience. Then, with bigger budgets allowed for future seasons, the production grew bigger, and the audience was retained due to a blend of action and drama to entertain a wide variety of audiences.
The Strain has followed a similar model, with one exception: the production budget seemed higher from the get-go, which I would likely contribute to the firmly committed del Toro. The opening scene on the plane, the proceeding mystery post-landing, and the surpisingly violent and well-constructed death of one of the airport officials all leads to an immediate hook into the story. It took me a while to realize I was watching a very similar model to that of The Walking Dead meets Helix with a dash of I Am Legend. It took me even longer to realize I was enthralled with "yet another vampire story". And then, scoffing at my own slow-witted brain, I realized why I loved the show so much. It's a rip-off of Blade 2 with a Walking Dead-like cast replacing Blade and his band of vampire bounty hunters (wait...The Strain has those too...).
At first I thought, "how unoriginal", but then I realized how much I loved the idea. The best part of Blade 2 were the reapers, feral vampires with a near-mindless drive to feed. Their monstrous features, method of feeding, and behavior makes them a horrific symbol that is fun to watch. The reapers had so much potential outside of the Blade universe, and now del Toro was able to bring them back in an entirely different storyline. The only thing missing is a Ron Perlman cameo.
The show isn't chasing the oft-overly-melodramatic depths of The Walking Dead. Nor is it attempting a light-hearted perspective of horror in order to survive multi-season runs via the Supernatural route. Instead it has found this happy medium of action, horror, mystery and fun, all bundled nicely in a group of lovable characters with a decent script. What more could a horror fan ask for?
Some of the action set pieces have already begun to seem repetitive. The reapers have one move, and they seem content with it. Also, the lack of public knowledge by the end of season 1 is on-par with the ludicrous behavior that takes place in the now-cancelled Helix. The show behaves like an amalgamation of a lot of successful TV franchises in the vein of scifi and horror. While it tends to limit its originality, it also allows it to thrive on its own merits. As far as horror television goes, The Strain is the pinnacle of modern options. It doesn't mean it's perfect, but it certainly satisfies the need.