A vast, chilly wasteland. Violence and madness. Reason competing with animal instinct. No, it’s not a documentary about Black Friday shopping at Walmart.
In the 13-episode SyFy original series “Helix,”Billy Campbell stars as Dr. Alan Farragut, a CDC scientist sent with his team of specialists to a vast and remote Arctic biological research facility. Investigating a possible viral outbreak uncovers a complex web of corporate and scientific conspiracy, and the occupants of the base find themselves in a ilfe and death struggle against the virus and each other.
The cast of “Helix” also features Hiroyuki Sanada as Dr. Hatake, the head of the research facility, Kyra Zagorsky as Dr. Walker, Farragut’s ex-wife and a member of the CDC team, and Mark Ghanime as Balleseros, a military type with dubious intent. Jeri Ryan also pops up half-way through the season as a corporate overlord who will stop at nothing, not even overacting.
Make no mistake, this is your basic sci-fi thriller silliness. Enjoyably gruesome at times, and not without a sense of humor, but silly. The creators tacitly acknowledge this by brazenly borrowing threads from other, better movies. Even casual sci-fi fans will recognize bits and pieces borrowed from directors Romero, Carpenter, Scott (Ridley and Tony), “The Walking Dead,” and, no joke, “Sophie’s Choice.” No, I’m not kidding.
So it’s a balancing act between stealing from other sources and adding a fresh spin, between personal conflict and broad action. The series creators, including Ronald D. Moore of “Battlestar Galactica,” are occasionally successful in this. The show burns through a surprising amount of plot, but developments are alternately dopey and intriguing, and sometimes feel like bon-bons doled out for sticking around through glib character development, high-pitched arguments, and “behind you!”
The show does have a good handle on memorably bonkers visual nuggets. Heads in jars, a field of frozen monkeys half-buried in the Arctic ice, a rat emerging from a corpse’s mouth, Jeri Ryan filing down her own teeth. And there is an undeniable pull to the wild-eyed, labyrinthine central story arc—what is the virus, what do its makers want, how many nameless extras will spew black goo and be killed before it’s stopped?
I liked the silver eyes of the infected leaders, and the muzak-accompanied hallucinations suffered by the infected. And hooray for the show’s unapologetic use of that old sci-fi standby, the conveniently large and sturdy air duct, as a means of escaping both locked rooms and writer’s block.
Though Campbell and Sanada are solid, the series isn’t helped by some terrible dialogue and flat performances in the supporting roles. The rare bits of comedic banter are painful, and even though each episode portrays only a single day in the course of events, the season struggles for momentum before it reaches its open-ended finale.
A friend watching with me postulated a very pleasant “Helix” drinking game based solely on events involving air ducts. Which made me think, maybe being agreeably, uh, relaxed is the best way to watch “Helix.” The show has been renewed for a second season in 2015, so I’ll have to get back to you with my research on that.
The Blu-ray of “Helix: Season 1” is presented in 1080p High Definition, with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. There are subtitle options for English, English SDH, and French. Access to a digital Ultraviolet copy is included.
The audio track is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. There are no set-up options.
- commentary tracks for the pilot episode with star Billy Campbell and producer Cameron Posandeh, and for the season finale, with producer Steven Maeda and Campbell
- Deleted scenes for several episodes
- “Ronald D. Moore: The Outlier of Science Fiction”: the producers examine the impact and ideas of famed writer/producer Moore
- “The Future of Disease”: a disturbing short about the medical background that informed the creation and writing of “Helix”
- “The Art of Isolation”: the creative team discusses the look and feel of the Arctic base
- “Dissecting The Characters”: cast and creative team comment on casting and character development.
- A set of mildly funny outtakes
- “Writing The Tension”: the series producers discuss their writing process, and their series concepts for the thriller elements
- “Fabricating The Plague”: interesting short about the design ideas and special effects behind the look of the infected characters
Slick and shallow, but intermittently enjoyable in a guilty pleasure sort of way, “Helix” only partly delivers on the promise of being “the new Ronald D. Moore show.”