Review: Helix 1×1-1×3 (SyFy/Channel 5)

Helix cast

In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, SyFy
In the UK: Mondays, 10pm, Channel 5. Starts January 20th

Normally, I do love a killer virus TV show or movie. Whether it’s The Andromeda Strain (original or remake), Outbreak, The Burning Zone, The Satan Bug or anything else, I loves them.

You know what else I love? I also love stuff by Ronald D Moore, the exec producer of Battlestar Galactica.

So I was thoroughly looking forward to his new show Helix, in which a brave group of scientists from the CDC in the US travel to a secret research facility in the Arctic to investigate the outbreak of a brand new ‘retro-virus’ (ooh, actual biological terms being used – count me in). Queue the paranoia. Queue the tension. I mean that’s The Thing (kind of), The Andromeda Strain (secret lab) and The X-Files episode Ice. Brilliant!

Except… as always, the devil is in the details and while everyone is trying ever so hard to make this scary and upsetting and horrifying, it’s all falling just a little bit short. Here’s a trailer.

Continue reading “Review: Helix 1×1-1×3 (SyFy/Channel 5)”

What have you been watching? Including Killer Women, Chicago PD, Banshee, Sherlock and The Bridge

It’s “What have you been watching?”, my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven’t already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I’ve missed them.

The usual “TMINE recommends” page features links to reviews of all the shows I’ve ever recommended, and there’s also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I’ve reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV.

Although The Assets went and got itself cancelled, lightening my viewing load slightly, lots of new shows inconveniently launched themselves over the past few days, which means I haven’t had a chance to watch many of them. That means Enlisted, Helix, Bitten and True Detective are going to have to bide their time in the viewing queue, as are the return of Shameless (US) and Cougar Town, although I’m about an episode in (of the three episodes already shown) of Helix and it’s not bad so far – no BSG though.

I did give two new shows a go, though:

Killer Women (ABC)
Tricia Helfer is a recently divorced former beauty queen and Texas Ranger. Uh huh. That’s the level we’re dealing with. Although clearly not entirely serious, it’s pretty dreadful all the same and not even as good as Walker, Texas Ranger, unfortunately. Given its ratings, it’s likely to be murdered by ABC soon, too.

Chicago PD (NBC)
A spin-off from another Dick Wolf show, Chicago Fire, this essentially sees an elite group of cops in Chicago’s ‘intelligence’ division ‘bending’ the law in order to keep the streets clean. While not divorcing itself from reality in the same way that Killer Women does, it’s a love-letter to human rights violations and corruption that’s unpleasant viewing that isn’t redeemed by a great cast or interesting characters.

Death Comes To Pemberley (BBC1)
A murderous sequel to Pride and Prejudice, but so much more PD James than Jane Austen and lacking in any warmth that I couldn’t get into it.

Shows that I’ve been watching but not really recommending:

Ground Floor (TBS)
The show’s starting to get slightly more innovative in its story-telling techniques, with a fun dream sequence this week. There’s also a cliffhanger. At this rate, I’m going to be popping it onto the recommended list, although my wife did sit and watch a couple of minutes of it with me before saying, “What’s this? It’s not very good is it?”

Almost Human (Fox)
Quite a fun episode (sci-fi idea this week: Dorian runs out of charge and his personality starts to go all ‘low blood sugar’) but one that’s firmly based in 20th century ideas of people, rather than even early 21st century ideas.

Agents of SHIELD (ABC/Channel 4)
Tahiti – not such a magical place after all, but I think we’d all guessed that. And it turns out that the explanation for why it wasn’t such a magical place was even less magical than we’d all hoped. Sky gets all agenty, too. Like we care.  

And in the recommended list:

Sherlock (BBC/BBC America)
As usual, the Sherlock series template was as follows:

  1. A great episode by Steven Moffat
  2. A dreadful second episode
  3. One other very good episode

So praise be, we went out on a Stevie high, one fueled by a sterling performance by Lars Mikkelsen (The Killing, Those Who Kill), who should be the next Bond villain, just like his brother Mads (Hannibal). It wasn’t entirely flawless, but it certainly reminded me of why we fell in love with the show in the first place. Well done, Stevie. Not so sure about the final reveal, but fingers crossed, there’s more to that than meets the eye.

Elementary (CBS/Sky Living)
On the other hand, Elementary reverted to ‘case of the week’, this time reversing the experiment in character development with Detective Bell that they’d been playing with for all of two weeks. Nice to see Paul Sorvino turn up, though.

Community (NBC/some random UK channel)
Not as funny as the previous week’s double-header, episode three was a darker affair, with not just one but two returning characters and a somewhat sad finish for another character. Probably won’t do the ratings any good, but it was appropriate, nevertheless.

The Bridge (BBC4)
Already shaping up to be better than the first season, The Bridge is treating us with Saga Noren moments aplenty as well as lovely character moments for Martin (particularly his defence of Saga to one of his colleagues), while giving us a villain who’s plausibly far less of the improbably omniscient and omnipotent Jens of season 1. Thoroughly recommended.

Banshee (Cinemax)
Not quite the smash, bang return I was expecting, given the first season’s kinetic arrival in our lives. More, instead, a recalibration for the second season, given how many of the plot threads got burnt through by the end of the first season. A few of the usual Cinemax sex excesses, although none as egregious as Strike Back’s soft porn, and no decent fights, and Lucas is far too appealing to every single woman in town for plausibility’s sake, but a good solid opening ep nevertheless. Except for the fact Julian Sands was in it. Who ordered that?

“What have you been watching?” is your chance to recommend to friends and fellow blog readers the TV and films that they might be missing or should avoid – and for me to do mini-reviews of everything I’ve watched. Since we live in the fabulous world of Internet catch-up services like the iPlayer and Hulu, why not tell your fellow readers what you’ve seen so they can see the good stuff they might have missed?


Mini-review: Intelligence 1×1 (CBS)

CBS's Intelligence

In the US: Mondays, 10pm/9pm CT, CBS

Ever since The Six Million Dollar Man, TV history has been littered with shows about ‘upgraded’ humans: The Bionic Woman, The Bionic Woman (again), Chuck, Jake 2.0, Northstar – the list goes on.

Fancy another one, this time starring Sawyer from Lost?

Here, since that “super strength” and “super speed” thing is so passé (and scientifically impossible – plus they’re doing it on Almost Human anyway), we have former Delta Force soldier Sawyer from Lost getting a chip implanted in his head that allows him to connect to computers wirelessly and access data, control them, etc, through a sort of sixth sense. He can even do virtual walkthroughs of crime scenes, in order to provide something more visually exciting than him just squinting a lot.

He’s also got issues to do with his wife, who may (or may not) be dead and/or have been a terrorist/CIA agent. Still, nobody’s perfect, hey?

Because this is airing on CBS, it’s vitally important that he have a slightly dull team backing him up, just like with NCIS, The Mentalist, Criminal Minds, Elementary, Unforgettable etc. This one’s run by Marg Red Head from CSI. She barks orders and sits on chairs in various combinations.

However, despite being ex-Delta Force, Sawyer from Lost is too reckless so Marg Red Head from CSI decides the show needs to be more like Eleventh Hour and give the US government’s most important asset – more important than the President, even – a protection detail with a grand total of one member of staff: Red Riding Hood from Once Upon A Time. Her job is to talk sassy, be duller than Marg and be both professional and sexy, without having any real chemistry with Sawyer from Lost. And to get shot and captured a lot.

To round off the members of the cast that have a personality is the obligatory CBS nerd – Doctor Alien from Star Trek: Enterprise, who’s the guy who came up with the chip idea in the first place.

This first episode is a bit of a damp squid, however, since rather than showing us just how awesome Sawyer from Lost and his chip is, it’s dedicated to showing us how awesome the Chinese are as spies and developing/stealing their own version of the chip. It’s also clear that the chip actually does give super speed and super strength, judging by how many bullets Sawyer from Lost can avoid simply by walking quickly.

It’s not without charms, and it’s a pleasant throwback to a simpler age. And although it’s very much a show that you need to switch your brain off to watch, surprisingly, given its set-up, you’ll actually find far stupider shows on television right now.

All the same, this is just another CBS procedural that fits the CBS procedural template with just one or two tweaks. You’re better off watching CBC’s Intelligence, instead.


Mini-review: The Assets 1×1 (US: ABC; UK: Alibi)

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, ABC

One of the US biggest traitors is CIA agent Aldrich Ames. Convicted in 1994 of spying for the Soviet Union, it’s thought that he compromised the second-largest number of CIA assets in the nation’s history.

You’d have thought that the march of time and a TV movie starring Timothy Hutton would have made his story less toxic, but The Assets, an eight-part mini-series that started on ABC last week about the investigation of Ames by CIA officers Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille, not only has the privilege of being the lowest rated drama premiere ever on one of the four main TV networks, it appears to star an almost entirely British cast and only one American.

Comparisons with The Americans will abound, given it’s another spy show set roughly in the same time period and stars another Welsh Rhys – Matthew Rhys rather than Paul (The Cazalets), who plays Ames. It’s certainly a little instructive to do so, since The Assets is to The Americans what ABC is FX: louder, less subtle, softer hitting, drowning in cheesy music (yes, Nashville, I mean you) and more interested in female characters and sacrifice for families.

The focus of The Assets is very much Sandra Grimes (Jodie Whittaker of Broadchurch and St Trinian’s), the author of the book on which the story is based. The first episode begins with the capture of both an asset and a case officer, the suspicions that raises and how Grimes then gets drafted by the head of the CIA into investigating a much larger problem in the agency. Against this backdrop we see Grimes’ home life, which initially looks like it’s going to be the standard “working women must be punished!” set up but actually reveals a very supportive husband dealing with an often-absent wife.

That is, assuming you can hear any of the dialogue – which although clunky at times, actually takes very few prisoners with its talk of tradecraft, dead drops, et al – over the constant terrible background music.

We then go on to see debriefs and the growing suspicion of Grimes, before her hard work reveals there must be a mole in the agency.

Whittaker is good, Rhys is great, a lot of the rest of the cast struggle to maintain US or Russian accents. Everything looks quite good, albeit not as good as The Americans and a bit 1980s TV movie – which you might think appropriate, but simply dressing people in hats doesn’t qualify as “convincing portrayal of Moscow” in this day and age. If this had been made on cable, it almost certainly would have been a much better show. One to watch if you’ve nothing better to do or are interested in the subject, rather than because it’s much good. Assuming, that is, ABC doesn’t cancel it before the next episode.