The Strain: Remaking the Vampire Classic

Since the abomination to the film/book industry that was the Twilight series, vampires have been dismissed as prissy prima donna hunks who sparkled when in sunlight. I remember my disappointment when I sat down to watch the first film out of curiosity and my hopes of witnessing one of the main vampires explode in some bloody, mucusey-jumble of limbs and organs. Lo and behold, you can imagine my thoughts when Robert Pattinson only managed to get more beautiful by glittering or sparkling or whatever the terrible term used in the books was.

Suffice it to say that by the time Breaking Dawn came to a close, society was done with the vampire porn of the silver-screen. Blade fanatics (like myself) were left reeling in the throes that one our favorite monsters had been transformed into some beautiful, pristine, teeny-bopper beefcake. Oh, the horror!

But there’s a light on the horizon in Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain which debuted on FX last year. The show itself is a classic story retold through the eyes of one of the most imaginative directors contemporary film-making has to offer.

For those of you unfamiliar with Del Toro’s work–get familiar. He’s a delightfully debauched combination of Tim Burton and Jim Henson, and he makes monster movies. Right? The creatures are terrifying and the writing is fantastic. Enough said.

The story follows a number of protagonists ranging from a latino-gang-banger, pest-control officer, and CDC big-wig–all of which attempting to stop an ancient Romanian vampiric parasite simply called Strigoi (risen dead). It’s a gruesome romp through the streets of NYC as our heroes confront one of the deadliest enemies the world has ever seen.

But the story is more than a simple vampire plague. Del Toro’s Strigoi is a horrific combination of new and old. His creatures of the night are reminiscent of Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu, yet aggressive like the zombies in 28 Days Later. It’s a sight to behold.

Needless to say, I’m over-the-moon about The Strain. The show is currently in the midst of a phenomenal second season. If you haven’t given it a peek yet, be sure to do so. Just maybe keep the lights on when you do.

5 Reasons Why Everyone Should Love Mad Men

It’s remarkable how with the astounding amount of TV available, anything at all achieves any semblance of recognition. For those in the relative know, Mad Men is one of winningest shows out now weighing in with 4 Best Drama Emmys and a colossal 17 nominations (most ever).

And yet, it’s also one of the most strangely repellent shows out there–to the extent that the question of “Have you seen Mad Men?” is most often met with a ubiquitous “Boring.”

That being said, ignore the pleas for the melodramatic. Most dismissers discontent rises out of a failure to understand that Mad Men is not your everyday dramatic thriller. It’s something much greater.

  1. Tensity: For the doubters out there, Mad Men is not a thriller, so dispel that notion at the door. It’s a slow burn. Like the bars and clientele the show portrays in its pristine settings and side-cuts, Mad Men moves with the casual saunter of a man approaching a bar for a whiskey. It’s not a tour-de-force. Not a rocket blast. Not 24. And yet, it’s hard to disagree that there’s something there. Some distinctly poignant glimpse into a life that is both honest and accurate, and yet delightfully exaggerated.
  2. Characters: There’s no denying that the show’s protagonist Don Draper exhaustively shifts on the love/hate spectrum. And he’s just a small representation of a cast that’s as lifelike and realistic as a trip to the store for a carton of milk. They scream reality, which any writer will tell you is a serious feat for dramatic television.
  3. Writing: The dialogue shimmers with innuendo, cut-cheek jabs, and off-the-cuff dialogue that surprises and delights. Predictability being the bane of a program’s success, Mad Men never steers the course for the traditional and instead relies on the duplicitous personas driven by its characters for its plot.
  4. Verisimilitude: This being the lifelike quality of the show itself. Mad Men has this uncanny ability to render the slow undulations of life, the steady rhythmic lulls and flourishes of conversation, the turn of the cheek at the approach of an unwanted kiss. It’s is one of those shows that somehow reminds and educates us about a time in history in which the world was exceptionally different and similar at the same time.
  5. Consistency: This is something that most programs fail to recognize as vital to a show’s success. Just like Seinfeld’s ability to smash-cut between multiple plot lines and jokes, and Lost‘s ability to baffle and astound with consistently melodramatic shock-and-awe, Mad Men moves through it’s pre-established paces of bar-top banter and cut-throat business dealings, every week at the same pace without fail–which in and of itself is part of the magic.

So the next time you’re perusing the B-League Netflix stacks of Watch Instantly and casually gloss over the glory that is the world of Mad Men, remind yourself that its not about boredom or excitement. Great programming is more than just the gun-battle and explosion variety. Good drama and good stories are often those that play it close to the chest. Those that make us think and make us inquire into a world of the past that’s otherness from the world of today is so staggering it might as well be set on Mars.

And for that–watch Mad Men. You won’t be disappointed.

On Demand: A Televisual Plight

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There are too many options on television.

I never thought I’d admit such an inane vacuous fact, but there it is.

Most nights, I cook dinner and sit down to watch something. I’ll move through my standard selection process which includes glossing over everything from live TV, my DVR selection, and finally ending up in the bottomless pit that is Comcast’s On-Demand, before settling on something to my liking.

Most nights, I spend upwards of 30 minutes on the choice, and by the time I’ve finally selected something, my dinner that was once delicious and piping hot, is now a mediocre lukewarm. Chalk it up to indecision, but the point still stands–there’s just too much.

The fact that I’m complaining about an overabundance of programs seems like a moot point, and is definitely sock-in-the-mouth worthy. I get this is nothing more than childish mewling, but try as I might to ignore it–the problem roots deeper than my own inability to choose a TV show.

This is a lament for the days in which a greater sense of simplicity existed. A time in which there were still options, just not a billion of them. I want selection, just not enough to keep me preoccupied to the point that my dinner gets cold. My rounding the dial is nothing more than indecision led by overabundance. Oftentimes I find myself searching for something better. Constantly thinking and believing that there is something better out there, when in fact what I’ve got in the first place is perfectly fine.

My televisual plight is a small sample of what I believe to be a broader collective discontent. We want what we don’t have when what we have is perfectly fine. In the Buddhist tradition desire is that which leads to our destruction. It is the most caustic and blinding of forces. To free one’s self from desire leads to enlightenment. Christ always preached abstinence of material goods, and the Quran even states that property should not lead to false admiration or desire, and maybe that’s where the root of the problem resides–it lies in our unfounded sense of desire.

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I see it in my students everyday. Granted, I work in an upper-echelon charter that caters to the upper-class, but the fact that some students have not one, but two cellphones or i-pods or laptops that values into the thousands of dollars makes me fearful of what’s to come.

What becomes of the individual that has everything from birth, yet still craves more?

My conundrum in regards to selecting something to watch is small potatoes in comparison to the larger dilemma that socially speaking, there is just too much out there.

I turn to Thoreau for this one: “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.”