Columns > Published on October 13th, 2014

Top 10 Ways To Make 'The Strain' Less Stupid

The first season of The Strain just came to end. And, well, that certainly was a television show. 

The way I feel about The Strain is the way I felt about The Walking Dead—it's a flawed, sometimes deeply stupid show that I somehow enjoy watching. Maybe because I'm invested in the source material. Maybe because the pieces are there for something fun, if only the showrunners could get those pieces to fit together correctly. The Walking Dead certainly got better. Season four was very good! Miles better than the first two seasons, which, besides the strong premiere episode, were absolute garbage.  

The Strain books, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, aren't great, but they're entertaining. There are some interesting ideas in there. Scary vampires! A slow descent into madness and apocalypse! Blood worms! A ballsy ending! I love del Toro's creativity and aesthetic. So maybe I'm more forgiving than most. I enjoyed the books for what they were and I was looking forward to the show and I'm a little bummed that it turned out to be really fucking bad. 

One of the first columns I wrote for this site, Top 10 Ways To Make The Walking Dead Less Stupid, ended up being pretty popular. And seeing the similarities between these shows and their lackluster first seasons, I figured I'd dust off the concept. So, here we go: 

10. Stupid decisions make for bad drama

The way I feel about 'The Strain' is the way I felt about 'The Walking Dead'—it's a flawed, sometimes deeply stupid show that I somehow enjoy watching.

One of the biggest problems with The Walking Dead was that the characters would make hugely stupid decisions in the name of getting themselves into life-threatening situations. It's effective for creating tension, but it's also infuriating to watch. Like the zombie in the well in The Walking Dead. There's a zombie in a fucking well, so they just lower Glen into the well to put a rope around it or something. What could possible go wrong with that? Stuff like this happens all the time in The Strain: The kid feigns an asthma attack so they have to go back to the house. Really he wants to get a photo album, but whatever. They're in the middle of a complete collapse of society. They've been warned, multiple times, that their vampire mom is going to come after them. So what do they do? Stand around in the house and flip through the photo album! And oh look the vampire mom came back, but then she just left, so it's cool! It's stupid, bad writing.   

9. Think a little bigger

They've got a budget to meet, yes, but man, this show feels small. All of Manhattan is falling under the weight of a vampire apocalypse. I don't remember seeing a single emergency vehicle or a single cop. There's the sound of yelling and breaking glass offscreen, sometimes, but there's a huge disconnect between the breakdown they talk about, and the complete lack of breakdown we see. And New Yorkers are assholes. We'd be out kicking shit over and knocking vampires' heads off. This makes it seems like everyone is sitting inside their apartments and watching TV or something. Let's see a little more of this purported chaos. Otherwise, it feels like there are no stakes. 

8. What happened to Bolivar? 

Seriously, what's up with Bolivar? He was actually kinda fun! And then his junk fell off and poof, gone, until he showed up briefly to feed on Nora's mom. Having read the books, I know Bolivar is an important character. The viewer can't know that. It would be nice if they'd give him more to do. This is a show that sometimes seems to forget things. 

7. Settle on an accent for Fet

I like Kevin Durand. He’s great at playing a handsome prick you love to hate because of how handsome he is. And did I mention that he's handsome? But the dude needs to decide on an accent. Right now it switches between South Brooklyn, South Brooklyn Russian, Regular Russian (yes, all of these are distinctly different things), and no accent at all. Every show needs its Han Solo. He's be cooler if he sounded consistent. 

6. Sigh. With the racism. 

Gus was a pretty pointless character in the books. I'm really struggling to remember whether he actually did anything integral to the endgame of the series, besides provide a minority viewpoint. Maybe the show can do a better job of integrating him into the narrative—on the condition they make him not say stupid shit. Miguel Gomez truly has a thankless job, forced to say stuff to vampires like "You planning on eating Mexican, tonight?” and “Wassup? You brought your homeboys?” Groan. Diversity = good. Tokenism = bad. It's 2014. How do we not know this? 

5. Let's get real

In order to perpetuate the vampire takeover, the evil corporation that's very helpfully called The Stoneheart Group (*snicker*) hires a hacker to "take down the internet." Of course, she is a super hot punky British sex object. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA FUCK YOU! This is what a hacker looks like:

Get with it, The Strain. There's only so much disbelief I can suspend at one time. 

4. Everyone sucks. Why do they suck so much?

This was one of The Walking Dead's greatest sins—the main characters were stupid, horrible, obnoxious people. And I have no interest in watching that. A zombie show (or vampire show, or whatever) is not about the monsters. The monsters are a storytelling device. The point of the show is how people react to the monsters. And if all these people are going to do is bicker and be shitty to each other, then I'm a lot less interested in watching. Compare the second season of The Walking Dead—when everyone is being a fucking assholes—to the end of the fourth, when they've learned to love each other and work as a unit. Rick's declaration that ended the season was stirring and exciting. Everyone in The Strain is a mopey, annoying dick. Why are they even friends? Fet should have slapped the shit out of Eph a couple of times by now—and Eph is supposed to be the hero! You can't invest in characters who suck. 

3. Make Eph less annoying

Again, with The Walking Dead parallel—Rick was an annoying character at the start of that show, and eventually grew into his leadership role, but it was excruciating to follow. It's just not fun to watch someone flail about until they stumble into their destiny. Eph is suffering from this same problem. He's annoying and boring and sometimes obnoxious. So let's get a little less Rick, and a little more Jack from Lost. Jack was idealistic and sometimes a dick, but we knew right off the bat that this was the guy who should be in charge. He carried the weight of authority. We, the audience, could trust him. Even if he made mistakes or didn't want the job, we knew he could handle it. Not so much with Rick, and even less so with Eph. Considering one of the showrunners of The Strain is Lost's Carlton Cuse, you'd think they would have nailed that down. But no. Eph sucks. 

2. More humor

This is a very grim show that could really stand to have a few more laughs. Lean into that dark humor. True Blood did it. They did it great. I understand that's a different show, but at their heart, they're both shocking, pulpy horror. And this show takes itself way too seriously. A few laughs could really serve to underscore the darker elements. 

1. Lose the wig. Then burn it.

Oh man. I like Corey Stoll. He was great in House of Cards. When he got cast in The Strain I was happy. "He seems like a nice guy," I thought. "Good on him." But they put him in a wig. That horrible, horrible wig. Word from the showrunners is that he’ll be “shaving” his head or losing his hair at some point. How about just not doing it?! His stupid wig can't be that important to the story. If something looks goofy as fuck, just take it out! It's like bad CGI. Don't do it! I hate looking at that fucking wig.


Those are my problems with the show. Granted, there were still some things to like. Eichhorst is a good villain! There's some creepy-ass imagery and fun vampire mythology! Hopefully they take the break between seasons to think about the lesser elements, and we go into the second season a bit stronger. Because there's some fun stuff on the horizon. 

Head on down to the comments and sound off. What did you like? What didn't you like? Spill. 

About the author

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor. His latest novel, The Paradox Hotel, will be released on Feb. 22 by Ballantine. He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. Other titles include the Ash McKenna crime series, the short story collection Take-Out, and Scott Free with James Patterson. Find more at www.robwhart.com

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