REVIEW: Syfy’s ‘Helix’ is infectious entertainment

Bruce Campbell and Hiroyuki Sanada star in 'Helix' — Photo courtesy of Philippe Bosse / Syfy
Bruce Campbell and Hiroyuki Sanada star in ‘Helix’ — Photo courtesy of Philippe Bosse / Syfy

Syfy and executive producer Ronald D. Moore created television history with their reboot of Battlestar Galactica. Arguably the best science-fiction series of all time, Battlestar was smart and profound, commenting on many of today’s challenges and trends. The team has come together again for Helix, a new series set to premiere Friday, Jan. 10 at 10 p.m. Although not as ambitious or in-depth as Battlestar, this new show has great potential. The performances are believable, and the story is fascinating. Consider us hooked and ready for the ride.

The double-episode premiere lays the foundation for the entire series, although it’s difficult to tell where this one is headed in the future. Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell of The Killing on AMC) is head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Special Pathogens Branch. He’s called in to a suspicious laboratory setting in the middle of the Arctic to investigate a viral outbreak. Details are slim, but the consequences of the pathogen appear to be deadly. Along for the ride are Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky), Alan’s ex-wife; Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes); and Dr. Doreen Boyle (Catherine Lemieux). Their host in the Arctic is the mysterious researcher Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada).

The reason Alan and Julia have been called in for the case — besides that their experts on containment and identification of viruses — has to do with Dr. Peter Farragut (Neil Napier), Alan’s brother and Julia’s lover. (It’s not much of a spoiler alert to figure out how Alan and Julia lost their marriage.) Peter has been involved in this Arctic research, and how he appears to be a carrier of the pathogen. Professionally, Alan and Julia want answers, and now they have a personal tie as well.

The pilot episode is well produced and methodically paced. Helix feels cinematic in nature, as if we were watching something akin to John Carpenter’s The Thing. There’s a lot of mystery and dread in this snowy landscape, and there’s more than one occasion when the hairs stand up on the audience’s neck. Helix is not scary in the horror-movie sense, but it’s thrilling and suspenseful. One of the great joys of the first few episodes is the inability to decipher what turns the show may take.

At its heart, Helix is a small show with enormous ambitions. The setting is locked down to this laboratory, and the characters become regulars only a few minutes into the first episode. One can tell that because of the environment, we will get to know Alan and company extremely well. And the actors portraying this motley crew of characters are skilled. Alan and Peter are different people, tied together by blood and strife. Campbell plays Alan as the “adult in the room,” a man tied to professionalism and dedication. He knows the rulebook, and he wants to follow it. The problem is that the present circumstances require out-of-the-box thinking. Napier’s portrayal is scary and zombie-like; he’s certainly the one person that offers the most chills up and down the spine.

Julia and Sarah, at first, have a jealous component to their friendship. One’s the ex-wife and the other may be the new woman. Eventually they come to appreciate their common predicament. Zagorsky and Hayes are well cast, and hopefully the writers will delve into their motivations and histories. Lemieux’s Doreen is the comedic relief, although much of her dialogue supplies the show with its necessary scientific jargon. Sanada’s Hiroshi is mysterious and a difficult one to read. The experimentation that occurs at the laboratory, apparently at the hands of Hiroshi’s orders, seems to be the central conceit of the show. What is going on in the far reaches of the planet? What went wrong? Was it stoppable?

Helix is the first must-see show of 2014. Sci-fi fans should rejoice that Moore and Syfy are back together again. This one follows in the same success as Defiance, Lost Girl and Continuum. Science-fiction television is not secondary television; it’s vital and can say a lot about today’s society. Helix knows how to keep the energy going as the temperature keeps dipping.

There’s no telling where this show may lead, and that’s one of its distinctive joys.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Helix will premiere Friday, Jan. 10 at 10 p.m. with two episodes. Click here for more information.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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