From Geek Goes Rogue TV Editor Zach W. Lorton, who’s thinking that monkey from Outbreak is looking pretty cuddly right now…
“This thing doesn’t kill, it annihilates.”
SyFy’s newest original series, Helix, premiered over the weekend. I wasn’t going to watch it, because I couldn’t stand the last SyFy series that was properly hyped, Defiance, past its pilot episode. But then I learned that Ron Moore, the executive producer behind the gargantuanly stellar Battlestar Galactica, was behind the wheel of this machine.
In an isolated (natch) Arctic (natch) research facility, an outbreak has occurred that has taken 3 people as casualties, and the Centers for Disease Control has been called in to help identify and contain whatever pathogen has done the damage. So when the robotic voice parroting “Contamination… contamination…” echoes in the opening scene, we already feel like we need to be caught up.
Billy Campbell, who is a far cry from his young, spitfire self in The Rocketeer, plays Dr. Alan Farragut, leader of this ragtag group, which includes a blonde woman with an attitude (who, I swear, used the term “frak” in the first 15 minutes — I like a nod as much as the next person, but let’s keep our universes from blending too much, Ron, what do you say?). We discover that of the three exposed to the virus, the lone survivor is Alan’s brother, Dr. Peter Farragut. He seems to be out of commission, but after the team arrives and attempts to draw his blood, he breaks the restraints that held him in his bed and escapes by breaking into the ventilation system. Apparently, nobody was watching him. Because that’s what you do with someone that’s carrying a virus you’ve never seen, you leave him alone with no one monitoring him.
And these are scientists. You might as well make this a haunted house story, because nobody’s getting out of the house, even after Alan watches a video journal of Peter giving him the same signal he would give Alan when their father was in a viciously mean, drunk mood… a signal that meant “run like hell”. So instead, they’re going to try and find him and discover what’s going on (natch). Hey, guys, a bit of advice — don’t go upstairs when you hear strange noises, and don’t ask “Is anyone there?” when you’re staring into a dark hallway.
Eventually, we find some black blood, other staff at the facility being attacked and dismembered, and bodies dissolving into a black goo just hours after infection. Okay, I’m in.
There are some good things happening in this show, and the production values are outstanding, if you don’t mind CGI monkeys that look like CGI monkeys. And something that’s odd for this kind of show — the acting from the supporting cast is stronger than the acting from the leads, with the exception of Hiroyuki Sanada (Sunshine, 47 Ronin, The Wolverine), who plays the man running the Arctic facility, Dr. Hiroshi Hatake. We know from the get-go that Dr. Hatake isn’t as benevolent as he plays himself off to be, and his approach to the role is understated and steady. He’s the one creepy factor that doesn’t show himself to be creepy right away.
So far, though, everything else about the show points to things we’ve seen before, but presented in a slightly different manner. Helix may not be overrun with clichés, but they are there, including a marriage-gone-wrong subplot, an I’m-not-involved-with-my-boss subplot, and a we’ve-been-hired-by-an-outside-firm-with-their-own-nefarious-interests-to-the-point-that-it-renders-everyone-including-us-expendable subplot. But when it comes to a new virus that turns people into… well, I won’t spoil it… then you might owe it to yourself to see this show.
However — and this is a big “however” — care should be given not to write this series off as a complete rip-off of a previous idea or series. Ron Moore and his producing team of Lynda Obst (Contact) and Steven Maeda (Lost, The X-Files) have a great track record of putting out quality stuff that requires more involvement from the viewer than just passively waiting to be entertained. This could be another “Big Idea” series, and if it is, I don’t want to miss what goodness has yet to come down the pipe. But it’s going to take a few more episodes before the whole story unfolds, and before I can pass judgment.
Zach W. Lorton is a media producer and professional DJ/MC by trade, and a comedian, actor, and musician by default. His debut music project is set to begin recording in 2014, and will likely take the world by storm, possibly in the form of a Sharknado.