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Saturday, 11 January 2014
Pilot review: Syfy's HELIX
written by Cameron Porsandeh (1.1) & Keith Huff (1.2) | directed by Jeffrey Reiner (1.1) & Brad Turner (1.2)
I enjoy a good contagion thriller, but I'm not convinced that genre's perfect for television. A movie can go about its business of entertaining you, even if clichés begin to stack up, but it's all over after two hours and you're hopefully left with good impressions in terms of storyline, characterisations and enough unexpected twists to make it feel worthwhile. Helix is telling its story over thirteen episodes (each representing a different day), so it's going to be much harder keeping audiences engaged unless the characters alone are endlessly fascinating (unlikely), or the story goes against expectations and gives us something much deeper, richer and crazier than any movie could achieve in a fraction of the time. It's too early to tell if Helix has an aces up its sleeve, but on the evidence of this double-bill premiere I'm just happy it has some merit.
It's the kind of set-up you'd read on the back of a video-game cover, which is actually how Helix comes across—only it's a passive experience, where you feel in relative safe hands. This isn't a terrible show based on these opening episodes, it's just exactly what you'd expect of it. The production values are decent (this is produced by Sony Pictures Television), the acting is fine, and there are some satisfyingly gruesome sequences and a few ad-break cliffhangers that make you raise an eyebrow (the best involving dozens of frozen monkeys).
Overall, Helix steals a great deal from classic entries in the outbreak sub-genre, but also other shows that have proved popular recently. The use of upbeat "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" as counterpart to sinister visuals, is straight from the Lost playbook, for instance. There's even some Aliens thrown in, as one "good character" clearly has an evil agenda that serves the base's leader Dr Hatake. Ronald D. Moore's also involved as a producer (explaining one use of Battlestar Galactica profanity "frakking"), and Helix ultimately has a certain level of glossy quality to carry you through. But if it's still doing much the same thing by episode 7, I'm not sure how about its long-term future, although Helix will probably justify a season-long commitment... so a lot rests on what the finale will be: a fitting end, or a doorway for a ludicrous continuation.
10 January 2013 | Syfy