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. 

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Sean Cummings's picture
Sean Cummings October 13, 2014 - 11:27am

It's too late now but THE MASTER looks ridiculous ... like a clown with gigantism and the condition known as hot dog fingers.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine October 13, 2014 - 11:30am

Good Lord... gigantism!

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast October 14, 2014 - 2:45am

It's true that The Master looks like Jim Henson's Creature Shop got the contract (I think they also did Eph's wig, culled from Miss Piggy's all-too-brief brunette phase).

But it's the unabashed schlockiness that makes The Strain work goddammit! I wouldn't have them change a single thing, not even Dutch Velders' I'm-so-wasted-right-now eyeliner.

Also, where else would you get to see Argus Filch decapitate a small child with a sabre? That show ROCKS.


Cärlo Bärbosä's picture
Cärlo Bärbosä January 20, 2015 - 5:29am

"Da Mastehr" was a huge letdown, he looks so fucking stupid, never thought i would say this, the twilight vampires are scarier than this, ass cream pied piece of shit  i expected more from del toro overall. The characters get so annoying sometimes, it makes me glad every time a character gets killed, instead of becoming a sad moment for the show. I'm mexican, but i prayed to la virgen de guadalupe, for this cholo bitch shit to get killed, chopped into tacos for the vampires to eat, and die from a chronic diarrea. Hope the show gets so much better, but scenes like the season's finale, where they have the fucking master down, and the old gay and eph just just fucking stare at him like dumb shit ,instead of finishing hiim off, really make me lose faith on it.

Graeme Oxley's picture
Graeme Oxley July 18, 2015 - 12:55pm

I was perfectly fine with the show up until they were trapped inside of the gas station scene.  When the clerk kept demanding that they pay for the things they are stealing.  WTF dude, do you not see the vampires literally 10 feet from you?!  And you are still acting like a cliche minimart moron?

From there it just seemed to get worse.  For example:  The vampires kill non-essential people very quickly, but the little kid dodges several vampire attacks with ease.  Not realistic.

The WW2 scenes seem to never go anywhere.  It's like they took 10 minutes of content and split it up into 10 different scenes that each take 10 minutes to show with practically no progression of the story.

I agree.  What happened to Bolivar?  He was, by far, the most interesting character once he stopped being an annoying rockstar and started being a more iconic vampire.

The old man is annoying sometimes, and his sword is so impractical that it bothers me everytime I see it.  I imagine that, in reality, you would constantly be cutting your thumb and index finger since there appears to be no real grip.

Finally seeing the Master was one of the biggest letdowns I have ever had in television or movies.  He looked so bad that I wished they had simply left the hood on permanently and let me imagine how badass he probably looks.  Now he is purely a joke to me.

The mexican guys are in jail.. the police are standing around doing nothing.. Why are the police standing around doing nothing?  How is it possible that they are completely unaware of murdering maniacs running around the city killing people??  You are trying to tell me that not a single citizen has ran into the police station and told the police that they need help?  Insanely unrealistic.

Lastly (but certainly not the only..) the hacker idiot is just ridiculous.  She supposedly can shut down the internet and all communications within X radius (which is just ludicrous to believe), but then she just sits around and sulks when her laptop is stolen?  WHATTTTTT???  A real hacker of that alleged skill would be far more innovative and find some other technology they can exploit.  Not to mention that she seems to be totally lost and stupid all of the time.  Why hasn't she attempted to reverse her actions and get the internet/communications back online now that she has realized her mistakes?  (We haven't finished the season yet, so this may be something that does happen later)