Review: Containment 1×1 (US: The CW; UK: E4)

Does the Flemish for 'killer virus' translate into 'merican?

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, The CW
In the UK: Acquired by E4 for Summer airing

Normally, the way this blog works is that I scour the world looking for TV shows that you all might want to watch (or avoid) and review them. Then, at some indeterminate point in the future, maybe a few months later, maybe not at all, eventually they’ll arrive on some UK TV channel or Internet service and, maybe you’ll look back and read what I said about them, to see if they’re worth watching (or avoiding).

As you can imagine, with that kind of top editorial USP and universal appeal, TMINE has become one of the top traffic destinations on the Internet, as well as a veritable ad magnet, and I’ve become famous. Normal people can hardly spend a day without mentioning how much they like TMINE in regular conversation down the pub, launderette or wherever. Why just today, I was talking to someone I’ve worked with for about four years about top US TV shows and I mentioned that I always watched the first three episodes of any TV show to see whether it’s good or bad.

“Do you?” she said, obviously bewildered why anyone would do that. 

That’s how famous the Carusometer and Barrometer have made me.

Anyway, with Containment, most of you will probably be able to turn the tables on me. The CW’s latest show – its third and final new one this year – sees the outbreak of a lethal new disease in Atlanta that can be communicated by bodily fluids or contact. So quickly does it spread, the government decides that everyone walking four to six feet apart from one another isn’t enough and it needs to quarantine the outbreak, so sticks a great big fence round it.

Some people, most of them young and pretty, get stuck on the outside; some people, most of them young and pretty, get stuck on the inside – usually, relationship partners get stuck on the opposite sides of the fence (what are the odds of that?). Is that going to be enough to stop the virus? Will everyone be reunited after a couple of days when the fence comes down, as the government promises? And just how many relationships will get started or ended by the quarantine?

Well, if the flashforward to Day 3 at the start and end of the first episode is anything to go by, it’ll be just three small notches down the Bad Things scale from ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ by that point.

So why will you be able to turn the tables on me? Well, what if I give you the hint that everyone keeps talking about a ‘cordon sanitaire’ and ‘inside the cordon’?

Yes, that’s right. It’s an adaptation of Belgian drama Cordon, which you all probably watched on BBC Four last year:

I didn’t. I’d tried Salamander. That was the best Belgium had to offer. It was rubbishCordon was second choice, so why bother with that, hey?

So was it good then? Does it end well? I’ve read Wiki about it now, and this seems pretty close to it so far, which means you probably know better than I do whether Containment is going to be good, as I’ve only seen the first episode.

Anyway, this is semi-pants, semi-good, and I say this as someone with a repeatedly self-professed love for the ‘killer virus’ genre. Despite largely having a cast of Brits, Australians and Canadians all struggling to survive, it’s basically a CW/American-isation of a more adult Euro-thriller.

David Gyasi (Apparitions, Cloud Atlas, Interstellar) is the noble cop struggling to keep his community and his relationship together, while he tries to work out the true agenda of the ambivalent and strangely stern government doctor running things, Claudia Black (Stargate, Farscape); Chris Wood (The Vampire Diaries) is his pal cop, oddly resentful he’s trapped inside the hot zone with cute single parent teacher Kristen Gutoskie (Beaver Falls, Republic of Doyle); Hanna Mangan Lawrence (Spartacus) is the pregnant teenager on the run who’s now trapped in the city; and George Young (The Brian Jackson Show) is the plucky Brit doctor trying to come up with a cure.

The show is often at pains to do the least interesting, most soapiest thing possible, cutting away as soon as “the science part” begins to have someone sulking like a teenager who’s not allowed to play on the XBox again until they’ve done their homework because killer viruses are, like, just so unfair, dad. Vectors and proteins aren’t anywhere near as interesting as wondering how this 100% fatal killer virus outbreak makes you feel about your relationship, is it, not when those relationships are so 100% completely predictable?

There is a slightly offensive part (imported and translated into ‘merican from Cordon‘s Afghan) that has the killer virus, which turns out to have been weaponised, being brought into the US by a Syrian refugee. From both Wiki and the show’s own production notes, which reveal that journalist Trevor St John (One Life To Live) is going to pop up in later episodes, suspicious of the government’s story, it seems this is a bit of a ruse, so I’m not going to get too het up about it, but it’s notable that the muslim family are the first ones under suspicion and carted off to quarantine.

But those problems aside, it’s not as much of a clunker as it could have been, certainly not compared to Between, the almost platonic CW ideal of Containment. It’s a bit more gruesome and death-filled than you might expect; it is actually filmed in Atlanta and while it’s not quite 54% black and no one’s doing a Georgia accent, the cast is reasonably diverse; there is some science in there; some of the dialogue is occasionally pretty good; and there’s the occasional scene that touches on the frightening. I’m sure the conspiracy theory is going to turn out to be insanely ridiculous, but we’ve not had to endure that yet, and it all seems moderately enticing at the moment.

If there’s nothing better on and you’ve not seen Cordon, give Containment a go to see if it’s to your liking – it’s a ‘limited series’ so hopefully won’t take up too much of your life if you decide to stick with it, too. But Containment is a low-rent US adaptation of a low-rent Belgian TV show in the scheme things, so don’t have great expectations going in – especially not if you already know how the original ends.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.