January 11, 2014

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Helix”


HELIX:  Friday 10PM on Syfy – If Nothing Else Is On…

Just about every network, cable and broadcast, is in the science-fiction business these days in one way or another, and weirdly enough the only one that seems to have been left behind is Syfy, which has been waiting a long time for its next breakout (or even buzzworthy) hit.  This week it’s taking two shots, with tonight’s biological horror drama HELIX and on Monday with the werewolf thriller Bitten.  Helix hails from Syfy royalty, with Battlestar Galactica‘s Ronald D. Moore as one of its producers.  But it’s not Moore’s show:  it was created by first-timer Cameron Porsandeh, and the showrunner will be journeyman writer/producer Steven Maeda, who has everything from The X-Files and Lost to CSI: Miami and Lie To Me on his resume.  On the basis of tonight’s 90-minute premiere–pilot (written by Porsandeh and directed by Jeffrey Reiner) and first regular episode (written by Keith Huff and directed by Brad Turner) squeezed back-to-back–Helix seems unlikely to change Syfy’s fortunes.

Our heroes are a group of CDC scientists led by Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell).  They’re summoned to an Arctic facility under the direction of Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada), where there’s been an outbreak of a mysterious and often fatal virus.  Just to make things interesting, the team also includes Farragut’s ex-wife Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zakorsky), and one of the infected is Farrugut’s brother Peter (Neil Napier)–whose affair with Julia is why her marriage with Alan broke up.  There’s little time for soap, though, since the facility is heavy on the menacing frigid atmosphere of every version of The Thing, and there’s plenty of graphic goop around like liquified skin and severed arms.  It develops, not all that surprisingly, that Dr. Hatake is–at the very least–a mad scientist whose experts have been developing a kind of super-soldier serum that turns recipients into singleminded virus contagion mechanisms; allowed to spread, they could, you know, destroy the world.  Also unsurprising:  Hatake and the soldier who accompanies Farragut’s team on the mission (Mark Ghanime) will take any lethal action necessary to preserve the secrecy of the experiments.

The familiarities of Helix overwhelm its moderately gripping atmosphere.  The characters are anonymous (even Campbell does little more than square his jaw and look determined), and their real contagion is with a bad case of TVshowcharacterus Idiotus, as they go wandering alone down dark empty hallways, always without a way of communicating with the others on the team, and even once they know the infectees are unusually aggressive, they’re constantly putting themselves at risk of being attacked and overpowered.  The two episodes that make up the premiere don’t take one twist that isn’t by-the-numbers (and that includes the inevitable last-scene gotcha), and the only display of style by the writers and directors is the repeated quirk of playing cheery Muzak as something menacing is about to happen.

Airing on Friday nights, Helix won’t have to do much in the ratings to stay on the air (Haven rarely rates over 0.5, and that’s been renewed repeatedly), but if the show is going to be 13 weeks of dull characters being stalked by quasi-governmental experiments in creating zombie-like human weapons and their protectors, there isn’t going to be much appeal to staying tuned.  Despite all the dialogue about “vectors” and “genomes,” so far Helix is just a low-budget horror movie, the kind that gets a week in theatres if it’s lucky or else goes straight to VOD (and is over in a lot less than 13 hours).  Perhaps Syfy will do better with werewolves, but for now, the network continues to show less imagination in its chosen field than just about anyone else out there.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."