Syfy kicks off the year with two new dramas, one brimming with darkness and ambition, the other simply looking determined to prove the Canadians needn’t rely on CW to export youth-oriented supernatural fare aimed at the “Twilight” set. If there’s one to watch, it’s “Helix,” overseen by “Battlestar Galactica’s” Ronald D. Moore, which vaguely echoes “The Andromeda Strain” and taps into not-entirely-unfounded fears about biological tinkering running amok. Mildly fun but less appealing, there’s “Bitten,” starring Laura Vandervoort, an actress so out-of-this-world gorgeous people keep casting her as something other than human – Supergirl, a “V,” and now the only female werewolf.
Giving a much-needed boost to both science and government bureaucrats, “Helix” stars Billy Campbell as Dr. Alan Farragut, the leader of the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s outbreak field team, who, along with his ex-wife (Kyla Zagorsky), is summoned to a private research facility, Arctic Biosystems, where mysterious experiments are being conducted.
Why did Farragut get the call? Because his brother is among those involved, at a facility presided over by Dr. Hiroshi Hatake (“Lost’s” Hiroyuki Sanada), who clearly seems to know a whole lot more than he’s letting on.
If the remote, frigid location vaguely echoes the often-adapted “The Thing,” “Helix,” as the title implies, stays more closely rooted to the science, without completely skimping on the what’s-down-that-corridor thrills. Created by Cameron Porsandeh, it’s a delicate balancing act, but the two-episode premiere (airing with limited commercials) and a subsequent hour – enhanced by Campbell’s stiff-upper-lipped performance, and the clever promo slogan “Play God. Pay the price” – dangle enough DNA strands for a discerning audience to want to see where they might lead.
If “Helix” embodies the brainier aspects of science fiction that borders on fact, “Bitten” is strictly escapist fantasy. That said, given the popularity of recasting the supernatural for a next generation, it feels not just bitten but chewed up and regurgitated.
Based on Kelley Armstrong’s “Women of the Otherworld” novels, Vandervoort plays Elena Michaels, who has left the werewolf pack and is trying to make a go of a “normal” life, with a new boyfriend (Paul Greene) and job as a photographer. Those plans, however, are dealt a setback when a rogue werewolf begins to commit murders, prompting the old gang to enlist Elena to help track the beast – and, inevitably, expose past relationships and emotional wounds.
Aside from some insight into werewolf-pack politics (an area, frankly, “True Blood” has already overdone), “Bitten” doesn’t turn over many new leaves, aside from a fair amount of sex and tasteful nudity when the lycanthropes strip down to run free. In something of a disappointment, though, once the change happens (a process involving the requisite glowing eyes and undulating skin), they’re transformed into plain old wolves.
While there’s a fairly dense mythology here, as adapted by Daegan Fryklind “Bitten” feels stitched together from pieces of werewolf tales of yore – undermined, in terms of casting its own spell, by TV’s familiar version of a pack mentality.