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How ‘The Strain’ Aims to Perfect the Art of Adapting Books to Television

How 'The Strain' Aims to Perfect the Art of Adapting Books to Television

As we come up on another cyclical fall television season consisting of more superheroes and high-stakes action sequences than we can count,
cable continues exerting its dominance in the TV adaptation arena, banking on
the built-in audiences from the original product and building mini TV empires
from there. The worlds of “The Walking Dead,” “True Blood” and “Game of
Thrones” have slowly but surely expounded, built on and often deviated from the
original source material on which they’re based, with varying degrees of
success, sparking fan debate and pop culture references while catapulting their
respective broadcasters on top of the ratings.

READ MORE: Review: Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Strain’ Lacks Originality, But Brings ‘Game of Thrones’-Level Gore to FX

It’s a high-class problem authors like George R.R. Martin
have dreamed of for years; the scribe famously wrote “Game of Thrones” after he
grew tired of the derivative nature of episodic TV writing for shows like CBS’ “Beauty and the Beast,” yearning to create a rich world of complex
characters that could instead be transformed into a movie later on.

It was the opposite dream for Guillermo del Toro, who for years had wanted to turn his version of vampires — parasitic monsters, not
glittering lady-enchanters — into a television series. When no studios bit, he
eventually collaborated with Chuck Hogan on the 2009 horror novel “The Strain.”
Two sequels and more than half a decade later, FX unveils the second season of
TV’s version of “The Strain” on Sunday night with a special treatment from del
Toro himself.

“BK, N.Y.” opens with a special historical prologue that del
Toro wrote and directed, which sheds light on The Master, whose strain of
creepy worms began infecting New Yorkers in Season 1. Following the opener, the
remainder of the first episode then jumps forward to present day. There,
director Gregory Hoblit is behind the camera as Eph (Corey Stoll) and Nora (Mia
Maestro) work on finding a biological weapon to destroy vampirism, and Setrakian
(David Bradley) searches for a lost book that may shed light on the mythological
beginnings of the Strigoi and how to eliminate them.

The prequel should come as a welcome turn for fans of the
famed director, who may have been disappointed in his limited work behind the
camera throughout the first season (the pilot is the only episode for which he
is credited as director). Thanks to del Toro’s commitment to the fall blockbuster “Crimson
Peak,” however, his overall involvement in Season 2 was just as limited. Aside
from the prequel, he also worked on scene involving a luchador character he was particularly excited about bringing to
the screen, and then he helped labor on the second unit. Because he, showrunner Carlton Cuse and executive producer Hogan have particular ideas
about how they wanted the second season to evolve.

“I wanted very much to show the past, a past that we find
unconceivable, and then show how it may repeat itself,” del Toro said during a recent press junket on the set in Toronto. “Because we really can
give up our guarantees or our freedoms very easily if we are promised there’s a
common enemy and there’s a huge menace. We tend to like to be led, for lack of
a better analogy, like cattle. It would be really great to see how every measure becomes
or sounds reasonable, like carding people according to their blood type,
giving up personal details in exchange for food or medicine, [or] accepting to be
quarantined in order to get access on the streets.”

Whereas most of the first season focused on the Strigoi
epidemic hitting New York and the denial that came with it, the second season
brings more acceptance, fear and resistance. It also introduces new characters
and the idea of an impeding apocalypse, something audiences are used to seeing
already having occurred when the cameras roll on these types of projects.

“We’re actually showing the demise of the city as a result
of this apocalyptic event. A lot of times in this genre storytelling you jump ahead
to the state of apocalypse,” Cuse added. “If you think of ‘World War Z’ or ‘The
Walking Dead’ or ’28 Days Later,’ you kind of skip the process of demise. That’s
what we’re actually illustrating in the show. The second and third seasons are
about that demise.”

If anyone has a proven track record of injecting new life
into these types of adaptations it’s Cuse, whose “Psycho” adaptation “Bates
Motel” will run through five seasons (A&E recently announced a two-season
renewal) and who brought French series “The Returned” to an English-speaking
audience earlier this year. The current plan, as it’s laid out, is to focus “The
Strain” Seasons 2 and 3 on the second book in the series, “The Fall,” and
the final two seasons on the last chapter of the trilogy, “The Night Eternal.”

Knowing when to deviate and when to stick to source material
is something that largely happens in the writers’ room, when certain scribes
want to write more for particular characters that pop for them onscreen. As
such, characters like Kevin Durand’s Fet or Ruta Gedmintas’s Dutch — who was
originally conceived for the television version and didn’t appear in the books — receive deeper arcs and undergo further development in Season 2.

“We knew if we stayed on-book we would have less
discoveries. There’s stuff with Fet that wasn’t in the book that’s been really,
really good. The finale of the first season was not in the books, and it’s really
one of my favorite episodes,” del Toro explained. “We agreed from the beginning
that we would try to hit the big notes. But if you do a change that you think
is good that ripples through, then you ripple it through. It’s about letting
things have a life of their own. It’s a very different medium, so I watch it
with curiosity. It’s Carlton and Chuck running this season, much more than the
books.”

In that case, here’s hoping “The Strain” fans are more
forgiving than the “Game of Thrones” aficionados.

“The Strain” Season 2 premieres July 12 at 10pm on FX. 

READ MORE: Watch: Things Get Scarier (And Bloodier) in ‘The Strain’ Season 2 Trailer

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