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Containment Series Premiere Review: Weak Strain

Containment S01E01: "Pilot"

I know what you're thinking. Why the holy heck is Tim reviewing a show on The CW? I haven't reviewed a CW show since 2008's Privileged, which means I missed putting my two cents in on the whole vampire phenomenon, the slutty Manhattan socialites, and the deluge of series featuring superheroes in Halloween costumes. But do not worry, because Containment isn't really like the typical CW shows you're used to. And also don't worry, because it won't be on the air for too long!

Containment comes from Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries) and David Nutter (Arrow and The Flash) and is based on the Belgian series Cordon. It dramatizes the beginning of a deadly viral outbreak in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. that kills everyone who comes in contact with it. We're talking 100-percent fatality rate, which is great if you're a fan of deadly viruses doing their job. There are a lot of people puking up blood and guys in tank tops with sweat rings around their necks because they've been playing pickup basketball. The show is also about a woman with relationship issues who can't decide whether or not she wants to move in with her boyfriend, in case people dropping dead and shooting blood out of every orifice wasn't heavy enough. Also, Julie Plec might be a Donald Trump supporter because there's an underlying political statement being made because the virus was sourced through an illegal Syrian immigrant! There's a lot going on in this show, and simultaneously there is nothing going on in this show.

Containment has been downgraded from "television series" to "let's get this off the air and call it a 'limited-event series'," though should it provide any chunk of change for The CW, I'm sure it would find a way back on the air. (OH NO THE VIRUS MUTATED!!!) But staying one-and-done would probably be the wise option here as the pilot of Containment offered nothing new to the deadly-bug genre of entertainment. Given that you knew the logline of Containment ("Virus kills people in Atlanta!") and also knew it was on The CW, then you could predict every step the pilot took. If someone sneezed, they were DEAD. If they bled, they were DEAD. If they touched the pen of someone who was sick, they were DEAD. If they looked at the virus funny, they were DEAD. Doctors freaked out. People freaked out. Kids did stupid things. The government issued a cordon order to try to contain the virus. Women nervous about making the leap of co-habitating with their boyfriends got separated from their boyfriends due to a cordon and/or containment. Life in a city full of lethal viruses looked pretty lame, to be honest.

What's missing here and what's missing from the successful CW formula is the romanticism and sexiness of the network's other programming. Vampires are f'ing hot as hell, superheroes are sexpots, and even delusional, singing, love-obsessed maniacs have a charming, unique angle. Containment ditches all that for one of entertainment's worst offenses: the unresponsive, non-interactive, "it's just there" invisible threat. Look, I know viruses are real-world scary, and the idea of an unstoppable, transmittable miniature ball of death is terrifying, but slapping a generic CW story on top of that lacks the pizazz of The CW's other series. Scary virus stories can be told on television (though that's not advised as they are better fitted for movies where the premise can sustain its power for 90 minutes), but I do not think they work well on The CW, and there's not much in Containment's pilot that argued against that. I really can't say this enough about Containment: there was nothing new. At all.

But what about the characters?! Yes, there are characters in this show! Or as I like to call them, people who are about to die. Alex "Lex" Carnahan (David Gyasi) was the cop who was asked to "be the face" of the containment initiative by authoritative science-y lady Dr. Sabine Summers (Claudia Black), and their relationship will likely cover the disastrous red-tape and government incompetence that impede crisis situations. Lex's cold-feet girlfriend Jana (Christina Moses) said she had a "moment of doubt" like 15 times in the first 20 minutes when talking about her willy-nilly decision to bail on her boyfriend, and then later got cut off from Lex as part of the cordon (shoulda moved in with him, girl! Lesson learned). There's an overwhelmed teacher/single mom Katie (Kristen Gutoskie) who got stuck in the ground-zero hospital, but luckily hunky young cop Jake (Chris Wood, a.k.a. TVD's Kai) was also there to lick his lips and these two will be doing it in no time. Just remember to watch those transmitted fluids, kiddos. Finally, there's pregnant teen Teresa (Hanna Mangan) and teen father-to-be Xander (Demetrius Bridges), who, like Lex and Jana, are also separated by the cordon. None of these bland people would be the kind of person you would go out of your way to text, but if you saw them out you might politely say, "Hey, what's up?" before thinking of an excuse to avoid conversation as fast as possible.

If Containment wants legs, it'll need to pull off something from its xenophobic terrorist subplot. But as it stood from the pilot, all I heard was white noise about how we shouldn't allow immigrants into the country because they could be petri dishes for bio-engineered super viruses designed to kill America. That's a strong stance to take no matter your political leanings, and the pilot played it as simply as "foreigners = bad." A little more finesse would have increased the interest level in this and maybe saved what otherwise was a by-the-numbers opening hour. That story could be coming down the line, however.

There wasn't much more to it than that, and with all the chaos and blood-puking going on, not much time to develop its characters into anyone we cared about. And so Containment really was only about how a city responds to a viral outbreak and how people who are clearly sick keep getting away to infect the rest of the helpless population. I can only assume that in later episodes the real threat is THE PEOPLE! Sigh. We've seen it all before, and we've seen it much better, making us already immune to this weak strain.



CORDONED-OFF NOTES

– I liked that guy who let two strangers into a private area of the hospital because his job wasn't worth it. I hear ya, pal!

– Do you think Jana will move in with Lex? Will she have a "moment of doubt"?

– Does Atlanta always look like this?

– Are you sick? You're sick, aren't you. Stay away from me!


Ground Zero

January 1, 1970

Ground Zero in Manhattan