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Monitor: The viral premise of Containment fails to catch on

The limited run series Containment promises a healthy dose of viruses with a side of emotional trauma. After one episode, Aaron Yap was left feeling less than satisfied.

The sight of someone spewing blood and mucus out their nostrils will probably never lose its inherent ickiness. Containment knows this. Throughout its pilot episode, the show thrives on this brand of germaphobic scare-mongering for its chills. It trusts we’re not completely jaded yet by the surfeit of similar viral outbreak offerings we’ve had in recent years, both on the small (The Walking Dead, Helix) and big screen (Contagion, World War Z).

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For the American network CW, this show marks a more reality-based direction than the superhero and supernatural programming they’re known for. Sure, the gripping opening sequence, set 13 days into a super-flu pandemic that’s ripping apart Atlanta, flirts with familiar horror tropes. It sets up a scene of mass hysteria with looters, burning bodies, infected victims and the national guard jostling for screen time. It looks very much like a zombie apocalypse that could’ve come from any of the aforementioned titles.

But its makers, Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries) and TV veteran David Nutter (every show under the sun), have been quick to point out they’ve done their homework, claiming extensive consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure the deets are right. Given the confidence and frequency in which they lay on the scientific and protocol jargon, as well as references to real-life analogues like Sierra Leone’s Ebola outbreak, Containment is most definitely concerned with the Real and the Now.

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For all its admirable aspirations to plausibility and accuracy, the show adds absolutely nothing new to an already-crowded genre. Nutter’s directorial efficiency gets the narrative up and running at a frantic pace, barrelling through a smattering of interconnected, flatly drawn characters while serving up the obligatory ghastly shocks.

Present is an anonymous glossiness endemic of network fare: the overlit, atmosphere-less cinematography, the bland, generic cast, the perfunctory dialogue. It’s one of those shows where after the credits roll you’ll have no memory of the characters’ names without turning to IMDB. You’ll only remember them as types: Big Boss Woman, Hunky Cop, Pregnant Teenager, CDC Expert, etc.

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Containment’s limited event series format appears suited to the material, but even knowing that everything will be wrapped up in 13 episodes, I’m already feeling a tad weary of the soapy, standard-issue subplots used to ramp up emotional stakes.

Lex “Voice of the People” Carnahan (David Gyasi) is a major in the police force who’s dealing with girlfriend Jana’s (Christina Moses) commitment issues about moving in together. There’s also the story of Teresa (Hanna Mangan-Lawrence) and Xander (Demetrius Bridges), a teenage couple expecting a child and planning to run away. Teresa’s domineering mother, who’s got “the adoption agency on speed dial,” isn’t going to make it easy for them. Both sets of characters are clearly prepped to be teary-eyed casualties of the impending cordon.

And what would a viral outbreak thriller be without some children in peril? Containment has a bunch of merry school kids and their teacher Katie (Kristen Gutoskie) placed in lockdown in a hospital where they’ve just spent the day singing to old patients. There’s a silver lining to all of this: Lex’s buddy and fellow cop Jake Riley (Chris Wood) is also in the building – and available for Katie to exchange googley eyes with in the rare moments of quiet away from the chaos.

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Topping off the high, oh-so-urgent drama is Sabine Lommers (Claudia Black), a brass figure from the Department of Health and Human Services. She curtly lords over everyone, laying down the law and corralling the authorities and CDC together in the name of national security. “The fact that I’m here should get you worried. I don’t get called until things get bad,” she tells ‘em. Of course, we immediately sense that she’s not telling us everything, as does Lex who doesn’t want the security clearance she’s giving him, just the Truth.

Predictably, the possibility of bio-terrorism gets tossed around, and when Patient Zero is revealed to be a young Syrian refugee, Containment panders uncomfortably to a rather timely strain of xenophobia. Nothing here approaches the racist repugnance of that ne plus ultra of outbreak exploitation Ebola Syndrome, but every time a person of authority says something like, “we better get on to it before some kid from the Middle East gives us the plague!”, or “I’m not sure who these people trust less: doctors or cops”, one can’t help but imagine Donald Trump watching this, little hands clasped under his chin and nodding in approval.


Containment airs Wednesdays at 9.30pm on TV2

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