Justin Cronin is an award-winning author who published a trilogy of vampire novels that Twentieth Century Fox bought before the first book in that trilogy was in book stores in 2010. Given the success of the Twilight franchise, which began in 2008, it makes sense why Twentieth Century Fox would buy the rights to the book. The studio kept the book on the shelf too long though, or in development for too long. It’s a shame because in the near decade since the book’s arrival, we’ve seen several films and television programs essentially do what this series is now attempting to do.
Yes, this is a story about vampires but as a threat the monsters here could also be compared to zombies. The monsters are humans who look dead and who feast or cannibalize normal humans. The story follows a group of normal humans trying to survive or avoid these monsters. The Walking Dead premiered on AMC the same year as the first book’s publishing and The Walking Dead is exactly that. Cronin’s story also follows people in the government as they are responsible for the creation of the monsters or the handling of the outbreak of these monsters. FX Networks premiered The Strain in 2014, which is essentially that. If you swap vampires and zombies for enhanced monkeys, you’d also have essentially Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) and its subsequent sequels.
After a while, I lost interest in The Walking Dead and The Strain, as well as the Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ sequels, so the question is if this series can generate enough drama or characterization to make me or anyone want to follow it. The core of the series centers around two people, a government agent involved with controlling the outbreak and a little girl who could be the key to fighting the outbreak. There is perhaps enough chemistry and dynamism between these two that keeps this series from sinking. However, the book only has these two characters together for a brief amount of time. This series, adapted by Liz Heldens (The Orville and Friday Night Lights), feels like it’s attempting to draw out these two characters’ relationship for the entire series.
Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Franklin & Bash and NYPD Blue) stars as Brad Wolgast, a former Special Ops soldier who now works for this secret government organization called Project Noah. He has an ex-wife who is also a journalist named Lila, played by Emmanuelle Chriqui (Entourage). He also had a child with her who is now dead, which probably contributed to his break-up with her. He was focused on doing his work, which is delivering people as test subjects to scientists. All that changes when the last person he has to deliver is a child.
Saniyya Sidney (Hidden Figures and Fences) co-stars as Amy Bellafonte, the little black girl whose mom was a drug addict, leaving her an orphan. Amy was in foster care before becoming one of the targets of Project Noah. She’s smart and sassy, quite precocious. She impresses and bonds with Brad. She had no clue why he was taking her to Colorado where Project Noah is headquartered. She also got over the fact that he essentially kidnapped her, but she probably sees in him the parent she never had, as he sees in her the child he never had or lost.
There are other characters that swirl around them, the characters involved with Project Noah. Most of those characters are antagonists from which Brad and Amy have to escape. Heldens and her writers are developing those characters to give us some empathy and sympathy for them. Two of whom are themselves “vampires.” One is more of a vampire than the other. The first is Shauna Babcock, played by Brianne Howey (The Exorcist). The second is Anthony Carter, played by McKinley Belcher III (Ozark and Show Me a Hero).
Despite both Shauna and Anthony being vampires, Shauna is being set up as more of a bad vampire or a villain. Anthony, however, is being set up as more a good vampire or someone who would help Brad and Amy. Obviously, the show is building to some kind of major incident that will really pit Shauna against the world or unleash her onto the world. It’s only been three episodes, but so far that feels like it’s starting to drag in that regard.
The show has injected action scenes to keep things somewhat exciting. The first episode has a fight scene in a police station. It’s actually a shootout that felt extremely contrived. Brad decides to turn himself into the police and then changes his mind when it seems he should have been smart enough to realize not to do it in the first place. The second episode features a car chase that also felt pretty lame. The second episode did have a vampire attack that was appropriately tense. Otherwise, the whole thing is coming across like molasses in terms of its forward motion.
Brad and Amy are the best part, but its pacing makes me want to wait until Season 2 to see where it ends up. It’s not like ABC’s Lost where the characters and their bonds were so deeply felt, even after the first, three episodes. Yes, Lost had pacing issues at times too, but it did a better job of establishing itself as a presence not to be ignored early. This one doesn’t.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Mondays at 9PM on FOX.