Friday, January 17, 2014

Don't Catch It

A week ago today, Syfy's newest series premiered, Helix. It drew decent ratings by the channel's standards, but I'm here to tell you: if you were thinking of checking it out, don't bother.

My own interest in the show was sparked by the fact that Ronald D. Moore (creator of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica) was listed as an executive producer. Actually, I'd been misinformed that he was the creator of this series, and I was very keen to see what he was doing next. But it turns out that he was only lending his name to someone else's project, leaving no other real trace of his involvement.

Helix is the tale of a viral outbreak at an isolated arctic research station, and of the CDC team dispatched to analyze, contain, and cure it. If that sounds a bit like The Thing, you're not crazy. I suspect that's what drew Ronald Moore to the project (since he wrote an ultimately rejected early draft of the script for the prequel to The Thing). Helix clearly wanted to capture the same feeling of claustrophobia and paranoia. But the pilot didn't even manage to do so as well as the first season episode of The X-Files, the Thing knock-off "Ice."

The two-hour premiere began with an interesting enough premise, and I was pulled in enough to want to see what happened next. But as one predictable cliche followed another, all with tin-eared dialogue, the show became a slog. Nor was the cast skilled enough to muscle through the bad writing -- a criticism I'm sorry to say included series lead Billy Campbell. I've enjoyed his performances in other places, but here he adopted a very conspicuous "whisper-talk" that came off like a transparent code for "you're supposed to take this seriously, people." Too gimmicky to work.

With so many good shows already piling up on my DVR, I have no inclination to give this stinker a chance to find its footing. My advice? Avoid it like... well... the plague.

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