Syfy calls its new series “Helix” “an intense thriller.” In other words, it wants you to jump out of your skin.
Premiering at 10 p.m. Friday with two back-to-back episodes, the program recalls not only plague dramas but the scary confines of films like “The Thing” as it drops a team of scientists into an Arctic research facility that has experienced a lethal outbreak of … well, that is to be determined. What is clear is that it is something nasty, and it may need to be contained before it spreads beyond the snow-surrounded operation.
The team investigating is headed by Alan Farragut (Billy Campbell, “The Killing”), a top scientist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an expert on runaway illnesses. (Early in the first episode, he offers a chilling lecture about cholera.) Where there are plenty of other people who might go to the Arctic from CDC, Farragut has a personal reason: His brother was among those on-site during the outbreak.
But Farragut’s feelings about his brother Peter (Neil Napier) are complicated by Alan’s knowing that Peter had an affair with Alan’s wife, Julia Walker (Kyra Zagorsky). And Julia, too, will be on hand during the investigation – along with other experts like Sarah Jordan (Jordan Hayes) and Doreen Boyle (Catherine Lemieux). There are also people still in the facility, including its head, Hiroshi Hatake (Hiroyuki Sanada).
But even with all the interpersonal dynamics on “Helix,” the early going is even more about dark corners, unexpected bloodshed and things that jump out of the shadows. It is thoroughly creepy and made even more so by upbeat counterpoints like a sound system playing Dionne Warwick’s “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” over and over. The facility wants to be something safe and clean; the opening moments of the program make it seem like anything but that.
And, even as early discoveries hint at an explanation of what has happened, it’s not enough to ease the feeling that something terrible lurks, inside and outside.