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Review: The Strain 1x1 (FX/Watch)

Posted on July 15, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

FX's The Strain

In the US: Sundays, 10pm, FX
In the UK: Acquired by Watch to air this autumn

Vampires are one of the enduring horror icons of the past two centuries. Based originally in folktales, they first truly rose to prominence thanks to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, initially playing on the dual horrors of death and sex, they’ve gone on to be metaphors for pretty much everything from women’s sexual liberation to drug addiction.

Along the way, though, they’ve lost a lot of their potency, in part because of the general decline in Christianity but also because of the even greater decline in belief in scary beast monsters that skulk in the dark. More sophisticated demands from audience in terms of characterisation and the acknowledgement that stereotyping is generally a Bad Thing have meant that the question of whether a race of creatures, even non-human ones, can be all bad has also added to people’s reluctance to take vampires en masse as scary evil bastards.

Indeed, it would be relatively easy to list at least some of the media that have ‘defanged’ vampires and made them almost objects of ridicule: The Twilight Saga, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Blade, True Blood, Being Human (US), Being Human (UK), Dracula, From Dusk Till Dawn, 666 Park Avenue, The Gates, The Vampire Diaries, Moonlight, Penny Dreadful… As you can see, the list does indeed go on and on and on and on - poor old vampires. Makes you almost feel sorry for them.

So you have to at least admire shows that try to make vampires scary again. The much revered and generally wonderful Channel 4 mini-series Ultraviolet is perhaps the best example of how to do this properly, treating them completely seriously, adding science to the mix, giving us all that nuance about whether vampires are truly evil or not, and then basically saying, “Yes, they are and they want to kill us all and stick us in battery farms after creating a nuclear winter to block out the sun.”

Guillermo del Toro’s calling card to the world, Cronos, was also another sterling attempt to make vampires scary, giving us a vampirism passed on by a piece of beetle jewellery, although the film suffered more than a little from del Toro's love of grand guignol.

Now, del Toro is having another go at making vampires scary with The Strain, an adaptation of his own books in conjunction with Lost/Bates Motels exec producer Carlton Cuse. This essentially takes that original story of Dracula and asks the question: “What would happen if Dracula hadn't turned up in the 19th century at a boat in Whitby but instead arrived on a 747 in 21st century New York? He’s super fast, super strong and kills in horrible nasty ways, before bringing others back to life as vampires, too. How would the authorities react? What would science make of him?”

So far, so good.

Unfortunately, taking a leaf from his own book, del Toro's also asked, “What if Dracula’s vampirism was actually caused by an infestation of worms? And there were actually a lot of evil vampires, all intent on taking over the world in a secret gothic conspiracy where they all dress in black?”

Equally unfortunately, the result is something not so much scary as a bit unpleasant yet laughably bad.

Here’s a trailer.

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Review: The Leftovers 1x1 (HBO/Sky Atlantic)

Posted on July 2, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

The Leftovers

In the US: Sundays, 10pm, HBO
In the UK: Aquired by Sky Atlantic. Will air in September

TV is filled with death. For many shows, it's their staple. What would 24 or Banshee be without their epic body counts? Would everyone love Game of Thrones as much were it not for its regular game of 'Guess who's going to pop their clogs this season'? Probably not.

In the real world, though, death generally isn't quite as desirable, even if it is inevitable. The effects of someone's death are almost always huge, traumatic and life-changing for those who know them. Religion can provide some comfort for the bereaved. It can even provide some answers as to why death happens at all. TV shows that remember this are few and far between.

So in many ways, The Leftovers is unusual and innovative. Adapted by Tom Perrotta, Lost's Damon Lindelof and Friday Night Lights' Peter Berg from Perrotta's book of the same name, it takes the Christian concept of the Rapture - in which the true believers in Jesus are taken up into the sky to be with God, leaving behind everyone to be judged before Jesus's second coming - and gives it a slight twist. What if 2% of the world's population just vanished, leaving everyone else behind, with no explanation for their departure? What would those remaining behind do? How would they feel? And without angels coming down to explain everything and given that some of that 2% include some very bad people indeed, not just the blessed - I mean, Gary Busey was one of those who disappeared. Gary Busey - could people even be sure it was God and not aliens or some bizarre space-time accident that caused the disappearance?

The answer to this existential dilemma, it appears, is be largely miserable, dull and nihilistic. Strangely, in fact, it seems like the animals have a better idea about what's going on than the humans do.

Here's a trailer. If you're in the US, though, you can watch the whole of the first episode over on Yahoo.

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Review: Dominion 1x1 (SyFy)

Posted on June 24, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share

Dominion

In the US: Thursdays, 9/8c, SyFy

It used to be that there was a reason for adapting movies into TV series. Not necessarily a good one, but there was a reason: people liked the movie so why not cash in on that? It always helped if it was a good movie, because that tricky difficult bit - coming up with a proven good idea and a source material that people would enjoy - was already out the way.

So I'm at an absolute loss to understand Dominion. SyFy might as well have beamed onto our screens a picture of a six-legged cat attacking Luke Goss from Bros with a packet of instant custard and a small porcelain statue of the Ayatollah Khomeini and that still would have made more sense than Dominion.

Remember the 2010 movie Legion, in which Paul Bettany was involved in a war on Earth among the angels after God absconds? Liar. Of course you don't. Even if you had seen it, your brain would have tried to purge the whole unpleasant experience from your memory. You're probably just thinking of season five of Supernatural. Easy mistake to make.

Fact: There are literally no fans of Legion. None whatsoever. Science has proven this.

But supposing you were bitten by a rabid bat and in your fevered state, your memory became clear, you suddenly remembered Legion and you decided to make a TV version of it. Wouldn't you want to at least call it Legion or maybe have something in common with the original movie?

Not so with SyFy. Dominion it is and the whole show is set decades after that war between the angels. Humanity is now living in semi-feudal socities sealed off inside gated cities, while humans possessed by lower angels, particularly those in league with the evil archangel Gabriel (cough, cough, The Prophecy, cough, cough), try to assail those cities and infiltrate them. 

Meanwhile, there's a prophecy of a saviour child who will come to end the stalemate and the war (cough, cough… oh, done this already). Except no one's quite sure where the good archangel Michael hid him.

Throw in something about nuclear reactors, Anthony Head from Buffy and Alan Dale from Neighbours as human leaders pairing their offspring off with each other, missing dads with angelic script on their bodies, a bit of Battlestar Galactica, a bit of Mad Max, an angelic orgy, some sword fights, some gun fights, some anti-aircraft batteries, some Las Vegas cage-fighting and a cast of British, Australian and South African actors faking US accents for no good reason and without much success and you have just the first two episodes of Dominion - a candidate for the title of 'worst TV programme ever made'.

Here's a trailer.

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