If your average supernerd could wave her black cape over her television and magically create the world’s geekiest vampire show, it might look something like The Strain. Created by Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy) and crime writer Chuck Hogan and executive-produced by Carlton Cuse (Lost), this darkly clever drama (adapted from del Toro and Hogan’s graphic-novel trilogy) begins like an episode of CSI: Transylvania. A flight from Berlin to New York touches down with all but four passengers dead and a mysterious, coffinlike box in the cargo hold. Disease specialist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) heads over to investigate, but pawnbroker and vampire hunter Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) already knows what he’ll find, and it’s not some pale, romantic creature that sparkles in the moonlight. This particular parasite sucks the life out of humans like it’s crushing a milk carton. Its serpentine ”stinger” shoots worms into their veins, spurs the growth of new internal organs, and makes men’s nether parts fall off. Hunting this beast, Abraham admits, ”is not for everyone.” Well, neither is this show.
Mostly that’s a good thing. This is cult-classic, midnight-movie horror, designed in meticulous, mythology-respecting detail for comic-book readers and fangirls and -boys. And del Toro serves them well, with a deliciously sick sense of humor (watch for a creepy sequence set to Neil Diamond’s ”Sweet Caroline”), cool steampunk touches, and a smart origin story about an evil businessman (Jonathan Hyde) who’s searching for eternal youth. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere: del Toro and Hogan once wrote that the vampire myth endures because in a fast-moving digital age, ”the promise of something everlasting…holds a special allure.” But literary aspirations aren’t The Strain’s thing. It doesn’t need to ponder what’s inside these characters’ heads. It can just rip them open and show you.
So it’s a big disappointment when The Strain gets sentimental. Goodweather is embroiled in the gentlest custody battle ever waged over a tousle-haired kid. Plus, there’s a running conceit about the power of love that might make you roll your eyes if you weren’t already checking for worms in the sockets. If you’re looking for heart, though, there’s a great one here: At one point, a dead person’s live cardiac matter feeds on Abraham’s blood. As we said, the show isn’t for everyone. But that special someone it is for? She’s gonna love it. B