Chaos begins with a sneeze in Julie Plec's newest hotties-in-danger thriller
Credit: Bob Mahoney/The CW

Have you ever licked a doorknob on a dare? Played Marco Polo in a septic tank? Allowed animated woodland creatures to dress you for a ball? Well, perhaps stop doing these things! As it turns out, they are all great ways to catch a disease. Germs are all around us, and although most of them are extremely chill and just want to hang out and have a good time, quite frankly some germs are not trustworthy. Some germs will get all up in your private regions and ruin your weekend by turning you into a very leaky, human-shaped gristle balloon. It’s these kinds of extremely unsoothing germs that are the stars and subject of the new CW series Containment.

Containment, executive produced by Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals), is a surprisingly serious-minded (for The CW) saga about a rage virus-like outbreak in downtown Atlanta. Beginning with a flash-forward to two weeks from now when the streets are littered with flaming corpses and screaming single moms, it’s instantly better than the maddeningly disappointing Fear the Walking Dead and even flirts with Homeland in how it embraces quick-acting authority figures working against international conspiracy. Unfortunately Containment‘s grossest infection are the virulent soap opera tropes that invade the screen every few minutes. Somebody please take a flame thrower to those.

We’re all savvy enough by now to know that pilots aren’t necessarily great television; they need only introduce the characters and premise as efficiently as possible while leaving us intrigued enough to invest in a second or third hour (where one hopes it’ll become actually good). Unfortunately, writers and producers tend to severely overestimate the importance of character details before the story has given us reason to care about these people.

In Containment, only a few minutes after the aforementioned corpse-strewn flash-forward, we’re forced to endure a thread about a woman who doesn’t like to move in with boyfriends. Tell me more j/k! Later, two strangers bear witness to festering cadavers yet within minutes they’re flirting, complete with aw-shucks quips and lilting piano music. DO NOT CARE, show. There are bleeding orifices to worry about! Sure, you want us to like your characters, but nothing is less likable than people who distract themselves (and us) from the central threat. And speaking of tropes, anytime we risked forgetting that Containment airs on The CW, someone with a salon-fabulous hairdo and who appears to be 5-10 years too young for their job would show up and burst the illusion. Which, fine. Even shows about disintegrating immune systems deserve to be populated with hunks and babes, I guess.

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All that being said, the first installment of Containment very much succeeded in grabbing my interest. You have to love a show where the best jump-scares are sneezes. Also Containment is absolutely disgusting. Credit where credit’s due! Let’s get into it.

NEXT: Meet the Infectees

By design Containment is an ensemble piece — its disparate characters slowly revealed to be related by friendship, employment, or potential for romance — but a few faces immediately came to the fore. Single mom and school teacher Katie (Kristen Gutoskie) spends most of her time chasing down incredibly annoying children during their ill-fated field trip at a hospital. Fierce CDC agent Sabine (a remarkably blonde Claudia Black) excels at giving press conferences, but she’s even better at barking orders to uniformed officials. And hunky cop Jake (Chris Wood, so charismatic on The Vampire Diaries but merely very buff here) is tasked with arresting Patient Zero but ends up quarantined himself.

They’re all surrounded by a dozen characters of varying likability and relevance: Jake’s cop buddy, Jake’s cop buddy’s move-in averse girlfriend, a pregnant teenage girl, her mother, her boyfriend, her grandfather, and assorted government officials. It’s a lot of people — and Containment gives them all perhaps more screen time than they deserve at this point — but to this show’s credit they’re all well-cast and appealing.

Guys, we’ve all seen outbreak movies or read The Stand, so there’s very little surprise about how Containment unfolds. A foreign man coughs in the face of a doctor and suddenly every person and situation the two have encountered are now terror zones. From there we see governmental officials hold tense meetings while doctors intone solemnly over Skype about just how disgusting the disease will get. But Containment‘s freshest and most intriguing reveal is that the central disease — some kind of avian flu variant that causes rabies-like symptoms and then Ebola-grisly death — was possibly engineered by foreign terrorists and intentionally introduced into the U.S. population. NOW we’ve got a show. Don’t get me wrong, a narrative about the downfall of society will always be fun, but throw in a terrorism subplot and I’m hooked.

Although starting with a flash-forward is a storytelling tool a lot of TV shows use — and it certainly was effective here — it’s hard to not feel slightly deflated by the fact that now we know where the story’s going. Though the mass carnage promised by the cold open is only two weeks away, I truly hope Containment doesn’t try to squeeze too many episodes into the timeline before then or else it’ll all feel pretty anticlimactic. We KNOW things won’t go well. But then what? Let’s skip over the forced meet-cutes and endless scenes of people looking sad behind glass barricades and really delve into what this new reality might look like. You know?

One of the secret central pleasures of The Walking Dead is not the zombies, but the world itself. That ever-present dread mixed with post-society freedom. The only way Containment can sustain its premise and become a show we’ll follow for years would be to give us a similar kind of intoxicating atmosphere and an exploration of the frightening unknown. But again, this is a pilot, and a pilot is rarely more than a wink and a promise. This show promises to be a grisly and fraught saga with a high body count, as well as a weekly reminder to not sneeze in each other’s faces. But it also promises to be good, clean fun. Well, unclean fun at least. As I like to say whenever I go home for Christmas: Let’s get disgusting.

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