The SyFy Channel, or just SyFy as I guess it’s now known, is on of the most interesting networks out there if you ask me. They’ve had their fair share of hits, shows like Battlestar Galactica, Eureka, and Warehouse 13; but they’ve also had many failures, shows like Caprica, Sanctuary, and Tremors. And so when I see a new SyFy Original Series, my initial reaction tends to be one of skepticism. And so it was with Helix, SyFy’s latest addition to their original programing. We’re now three episodes in to the new series, and it’s time to take a look and see if we can tell what side of the coin Helix lands on — hit, or failure?
Helix tales place in a gigantic laboratory under the ice of Antarctica, where the CDC has been called in to investigate an outbreak of something never seen and altogether unknown. Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell), one of the most respected and successful scientists at the CDC, starts off the series premiere learning the unfortunate news that his brother, Dr. Peter Farragut (Neil Napier), has been infected with some sort of virus, and thus Alan and his team head to the wintry arctic to get to the bottom of this mysterious outbreak. Upon their arrival, they’re met with an unfortunate mixture of suspicion and contempt, namely by Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada), the head of Arctic Biosystems. And thus far in Helix, that is really the crux of the show. Alan and his team begin work on figuring out what this devastating virus is, and what they can do to stop it, and the residents of the Arctic Biosystems labs are trying their best to make that task extremely difficult.
In telling its story, Helix handles certain things better than others though. Where is shines is in its ability to weave an interesting mystery. Granted, we’re early in the show, but Helix does a great job of letting one piece of the mystery unfold at a time. Where it is struggling at the moment is in making me care about its cast of characters. Even with a few solid performances, it’s tough to invest in anyone, and the relationships between the characters hold little weight. It’s frustrating to watch a show that reels you in with an extremely compelling story, and then lacks substance once you take the bait.
As I mentioned before, Helix does make some good casting choices. Billy Campbell, as Alan Farragut, is solid in his performance. Playing the leader of the group from the CDC, he steps into the role of a leader very well, and I love his methodical, level-headed approach to what’s happening around him, even in the face of his loved ones falling apart. Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes) is also wonderful, playing Alan’s protégée and somewhat reluctant love interest, her delivery is spot on and her mixture of big brains and timid nature play great against the more bull-headed among the lab’s residents. Lastly, I have to mention Hiroshi Hatake, the aforementioned head of the Arctic Biosystems lab, and resident “creepy and mysterious and kinda sinister dude” (my words obviously). Sanada plays his role extremely well, and while we as the audience still aren’t sure just what that role is in all of this madness just yet, it’s hard to ignore how well he makes you constantly wonder what he has cooking in the background.
Unfortunately though, Helix also has a few outstandingly rough casting choices as well. First and foremost is Dr. Doreen Boyle (Catherine Lemieux), another of the crew from the CDC. Her delivery is near painful at times, and I find myself wondering if the writers have some sort of vendetta against her, as what lines she does have seem inconsequential at best. Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky) is the former lover of Peter Farragut and former wife of his brother, Alan. This odd love triangle of sorts should be an interesting component of the drama Helix provides, and yet the weak link that is Zagorsky makes me cringe every time is see her and Campbell across from one another. Their chemistry is lacking and the missing component certainly feels one sided.
Helix is a solid mix of science fiction, mystery, and drama, pitting a group of highly intelligent doctors against an equally intelligent group of scientists. There is the obvious problem of an unknown and deadly virus, the issues you might expect from a group of people being put on a forced lockdown together, and some other plot twists I’ll not spoil here. Together they make for the beginnings of something very intriguing, the question is of course wether it will pay off in the end. Plot aside, the cast is where Helix stands to make up the most ground so far. If they can manage to do that though, it just might turn out to be one of those hits we started this whole thing talking about.