TV Recap: HELIX “Pilot” (101) [Channel 5 / SyFy]

Helix-Syfy-January-10UK station, Channel 5’s latest attempt at trying to be taken seriously concerns a large group of incredibly stereotypical and cold-blooded characters who find themselves entombed within a building from which they can find no escape. But enough about ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ (ba bum tish), we’re here to get our ‘Helix’ on, if that’s the right expression?

The show centres around a small specialist unit from the CDC (Centres for Disease Control), a company committed to combating viral disease outbreaks. We first join them as they plan to answer a distress call from the remote research facility Arctic Biosystems, located (surprise, surprise) in the Arctic. A small group of researchers, have fallen victim to a strange new virus, claiming the lives of two, but leaving the other in the process of undergoing a strange body mutation.

The first thing to say is that the show jumps in at a speedy pace, showing a high octane chase scene of ‘something’ attempting to hunt down a terrified researcher. This is then cleverly inter-cut with the surprisingly liberal bloodbath of an aftermath and our introduction to creepy head researcher (and presumably, the series’ ‘Big Bad’), Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada), who discovers the infected but still alive Dr. Peter Farragut (Neil Napier). So far co creepy and intriguing, just withholding enough that makes us as audience want to watch on.

We then cut to our incredibly basic and brief set-up of our intrepid crew all set to go on the expedition, H6featuring Peter’s brother no less in Alan Farragut ( Billy Campbell), his plucky assistant Sarah (Jordan Hayes), frosty near sister-in-law Julia (Kyra Zagorsky), ‘hunky military man Major Sergio Balleseros (Mark Ghanime) and last but by no means least, boisterous and outspoken ‘southern belle’ Doreen Boyle (Catherine Lemieux).

It has to be said already that with the notable exception of bad guy Dr. Hatake, the show’s most notable glowing red weak spot is in its characters and incredibly poor attempts at characterisation. Each and every character speaks and acts solely within their incredibly cookie-cutter character outlines (Lemieux being the main offender) and for the 60 mins plus running time, only a couple even begin to have the remotest hint of any real ‘development’ in their characters. Alan Farragut and Sarah both come across as often gormless idiots who just want everyone to get on the whole time, completely over-looking and making light of the life-threatening situation they find themselves in.

Tara Reid’s ‘Doctor’ in the ‘classic’ Uwe Boll’s ‘Alone in the Dark’ set the marker for worst representation of ‘doctors’ onscreen but ‘Helix’ is almost just as cack-handed. You would be forgiven for thinking an entire building of presumably intelligent and qualified people means that there would be some level of collective common sense, but no, the second they all get wind of the impending problem stalking the labs (late one night), they all run around like headless chickens.

H5To their credit, none of the actors are aided in their efforts by the script. Whilst admittedly, the episode has to walk with the crutch of setting everything up for the potential series, seldom is there ever a dialogue between two characters that doesn’t lay on the exposition in droves like a rather over-zealous builder with too many bricks. As a result of this, any moments of ‘emotion’, particularly attempted intimidation, ring incredibly hollow, if not outright laughable, a particular highlight for myself had to be, “No monkeys means NO MONKEYS!” and that, in a nutshell, should give you some idea of the lack of intellectualism on display.

I’m sure that at this point you’re wondering just when I was going to address the rather large elephant in the room, well here it is: Yes, this is essentially ‘The Thing’ the TV series. Sure, we’ve swapped the grim and claustrophobic Outpost 31 for an altogether more impressive and flashy industrial lab and gone to a literally polar opposite location of the Arctic, but the air of déjà vu hangs over ‘Helix’ like a dense smog. The show didn’t eve stop there with its nods to its superior influences, the incredibly ‘Alien’ inspired vent-crawling sequence was cute at first but when it was repeated later in the episode, it felt like a rather painfully obvious example of overkill and a desperate attempt to bad out the running time.

With its much more sizeable cast, many of whom seem to be there just to shore up the numbers, the sense of imprisonment and isolation against the merciless and desolate wasteland is lost somewhat, although the show has already been keen to emphasise the grand scale of the facility, which will hopefully give the series the scope to play with what could be lurking around the corner to great effect later on. The completely sterile feel of the facility is superbly offset by the imminent threat of infection that there is a remarkably noteworthy sense of dread that for all the silliness is still very much present.

One of the shows most promising elements was its use of practical effects and grotesque make-up (again wink nudge ‘The Thing’) that were pulled off often with a deliciously gruey aplomb. For its generous lashings of blood and gore, it’s backed itself into the corner of not being able to reach State-wide appeal, but it must be commended for taking such a risk in the light of the genre’s near total abandonment of such impressive craft. The trade-off for this, however, is that when the show finds itself in need of effects beyond its budget, the CGI is truly abysmal and almost reaching ‘The Langoliers’ levels of ridiculousness.

The shows overriding saving grace is its wonderful breakneck pace that refuses to slow down for even a second. Naturally, this is probably due to the fact that if you were to really think about it, you’d see how over the top and ‘naff’ it really was, however, it’s constant throwing up new questions for every one answered certainly ensures that it is seldom dull. The main worry is that despite a well worked and almost cliff-hanger ending, so much was covered in the pilot that you have to wonder where else could an entire series ‘go’ exactly within arguably such a ‘confined’ space. Questions such over the mysterious ‘White Room’, how the virus was discovered and just what was up with all those snow monkeys (you have to see to believe) at least ensure that audiences will come back for a second helping.

For all its plain to see flaws, however, the overall sense of fun and reckless abandon made the pilot episode of ‘Helix’ an enjoyable romp that if developed properly, could see the dawn of a new daft cult hit!

Conclusion: Gloriously over the top and silly without a single fresh idea in its head. Yet so somehow, it was strangely compelling and entertaining! The real test will be if the concept and restrictive setting are able to whole up under a series worth of scrutiny 7/10


Helix - Season 1

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