If you haven’t heard, Helix is the next big scripted show from Syfy. And out of all the new shows that debuted so far or are debuting soon, this is the one I’m most excited for. Helix premieres this Friday, January 10th, at 10/9c.
Helix is a science fiction thriller, set in a secret corporate research facility inside the Arctic Circle – outside of any government oversight – or laws, for that matter. After a distress call, a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) travel to the massive underground Arctic Biosystems facility to investigate a possible retrovirus outbreak, but instead find themselves in a life-and-death situation which goes beyond just a virus and it seems everyone knows more than they want to say.
A bit about the main characters first.
The CDC rapid-response team is lead by Dr. Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell, The Rocketeer, The 4400), a top pathologist for the CDC who puts science first, but is closed off emotionally after find his wife and brother having an affair. Making matters worse, his wife is on the investigative team, and his brother is one of those infected.
Dr. Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky, The Pastor’s Wife, Recon: 2020) is Farragut’s ex-wife and a cellular biologist who retreated into fieldwork after the affair with his brother Peter, until receiving the call about Peter’s illness, and calls Alan in to help.
Dr. Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes, The House at the End of the Street, The F Word) is a virologist and protege of Dr. Farragut. She is young and highly ambitious, and she’s quick to counter criticisms of her age with her credentials. She excels at creating controlled experiments to try and determine infection levels and vectors.
Dr. Doreen Boyle (Catherine Lemieux, Léolo, White House Down) is a veterinary pathologist with experience battling outbreaks around the globe, studying disease transmission via animal tissue and bodily fluids.
Joining the team from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases is Major Sergio Balleseros (Mark Ghanimé, Soldiers of the Apocalypse, One Night in Seattle), a systems engineer who says he has little battle experience but knows more about viral pathogens then an average military man.
From the Arctic Biosystems facility, working for the Ilaria Corporation, is the director of the facility, Dr. Hiroshi Hitake (Hiroyuki Sanada, 47 Ronin, The Wolverine), who seems eager to have the CDC’s help, but what his true motives are is a mystery.
Daniel Aerov (Meegwun Fairbrother, Breakout, The Time Traveler) is the fiercely loyal head of security at Arctic Biosystems and has worked for Dr. Hitake most of his life.
And lastly there is Dr. Peter Farragut (Neil Napier, 300, Riddick), Alan’s brother, who was doing some sort of secret mutagen research at the facility when he became infected.
And don’t forget – Jeri Ryan (Star Trek: Voyager, Warehouse 13) will join the cast a bit later in the season as Constance Sutton, the Chief Operating Officer of Ilaria Corporation.
Of all the characters, I have a feeling that Boyle will be my “voice” – in the fact that she’ll be making the comments I might. She’s got a sarcastic bent but also discusses things rather matter-of-factly. I find it interesting that Lemieux gives a bit of a Texas accent (to my ears at least) to the character – she’s Montreal native. She also have one of my favorite responses to a question for the cast during our set visit. When asked “How did you prepare for the role’s isolation?” she answered, “I just live in Montreal…”
Visually, the sets are quite amazing. There are corridors than can be redressed to appear to be from different levels of the facility. But what I was most impressed by is that some of the sets include LIVE visual effects – as in they are not composited in by VFX afterwards, but are live display screens, etc. The elevator that brings people down into the facility has a large digital “window”. And the isolation room, as viewed from the observation room, actually has some holographic effects that I didn’t get to see how it worked. See the picture to the right, and don’t forget to check out all the pics from our set visits from Being Human and Helix and some other pics of Syfy stars on Facebook and Google+. I have even more pictures from a second set, but they are still “secret” as they may present spoilers for the first few episodes. Hopefully I can post them soon.
Even the elevator control panel actually opened up the large “freight elevator” door.
If you’ve seen the “whitewash” teasers…the show looks nothing like that. Those teasers were actually produced before production began. Although there is some references to the “White Room” in the first few episodes, where apparently bad things happen – but we don’t see it at least for a while.
The dialog can be a bit technical, but that hasn’t hurt other shows, even on broadcast networks. As a techie/scientist-type person who can nitpick technical jargon to death, they at least seem to be saying the right things. According to creator Cameron Porsandeh, they do consult with the CDC for technical advice, and the cast do speak with doctors and veterinarians as well.
I do have to say, the use of elevator music (assuming it doesn’t change from the rough versions I’ve watched) is downright creepy.
While at first I got a bit of an Andromeda Strain vibe – probably to do with the isolated multilevel underground infectious disease research station – you realize that this is far more than that. Interestingly, both Billy Campbell and Neil Napier list Andromeda Strain as among their favorite movies of all time.
I asked Porsandeh about the isolation and the danger of not being able to introduce new characters over time – which was answered by the announcement of Jeri Ryan joining the cast. He said that despite the isolation, they will be able to introduce new characters. They do have limited capability to communicate to the outside world (a high speed satellite link available for about an hour per day), and transportation to a military base about 200 miles away, so there is some flexibility.
My only concern is the sustainability of the story over the (hopefully) multiple seasons…but other shows have managed to escaped the bottle before, so it will be interesting to see where this goes.
So, without further ado, here are the first 15 minutes of the premiere of Helix…
Helix is produced by Tall Ship Productions, Kaji Productions and Lynda Obst Productions in association with Sony Pictures Television. Prolific director and producer Jeffrey Reiner is directing the premiere episode of Helix. Helix is executive produced by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Outlander), Steven Maeda (Lost, The X-Files) who is also showrunner, and Lynda Obst (Sleepless in Seattle, Contact).