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'Containment' a mildly diverting urban-plague tale

Robert Lloyd
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic

"Containment," which will occupy 13 weeks of CW real estate beginning Tuesday, tells a story of an American city in the grip of a fast-spreading fatal virus. It is something like Steven Soderbergh's 2011 film "Contagion" and even more like "Cordon," the 2014 Belgian series on which it is closely based. It has been adapted, fittingly in a way, by Julie Plec, co-creator of "The Vampire Diaries," another tale of blood and infection.

That the new Black Death is considered by epidemiologists a matter not of "if" but "when," combined with the human tendency toward hypochondria on the one hand and to ignore actual symptoms on the other, makes such stories evergreen. (We have met the zombie apocalypse and it is a bird flu.) They are also overly familiar; though all may not be exactly as it seems, it will eventually be suggested, this is — chaos and corpses included — routine stuff.

When a mysterious new disease starts felling the citizens of Atlanta, a fence — a real fence, with electricity running through it — is thrown up around a section of the city with magical speed and efficiency. (The title of the original series refers to a "cordon sanitaire," a no-go zone — no going in, no going out — established to contain an epidemic; it's a real thing, if a rarely employed one.) Due mention is made of SARS, West Nile virus and Ebola; bioterrorism may be the culprit.

After a brief moment of administrative calm, as residents are advised to stay indoors and maintain a distance of "four to six feet" from one another — a strange instruction, if you think about it — quarantine turns inevitably into chaos: masked motorcyclists, price-gouging shop owners, gun-toting thugs, the walking as-good-as-dead. Small groups represent mobs, as in Shakespeare.

As the translator of the original, Plec is a viewer of this material as well as an author, and she has her characters raise some of the objections any reasonably awake viewer might hazard — how those fences got up so fast, how anyone might think them impermeable, how in a fast-moving modern city you could be sure that every possibly affected person was contained inside them. The answers aren't great — they amount to hemming and hawing — but at least the questions are asked.

Undemanding viewers (not a judgment) may find "Containment" diverting nonetheless. If nothing here seems the least real, the series' flaws, from its underpowered budget to its overripe dialogue, are those of innumerable, sometimes beloved B-, C- and D-grade pictures before it — not excluding the high-toned epigrams, from Socrates and Matthew and such that introduce each episode with a sheen of classy meaning.

If you are able in some way to bond with these characters, to care whether the woman from the data-recovery company (Christina Marie Moses) is going to get over her fear of commitment and move in with the police major (David Gyasi) put in charge of keeping order by the scary woman from Washington (Claudia Black); or whether the elementary school teacher (Kristen Gutoskie) stuck inside a hospital with a pack of kids is going to get together with the cop with anger issues (Chris Wood), who is also the ex-boyfriend of the data-recovery woman and spends much of his time shoveling bodies into a furnace, like a ship's stoker out of Eugene O'Neill; or whether anything bad is going to happen to that pregnant girl (Hannah Mangan Lawrence); or why the only doctor apparently working on this problem (George Young) gets his lab rats from an old man (Charles Black) — hey, have fun with that.

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Containment'

Where: KTLA

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for coarse language and violence)

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