Out of all of the genres that routinely cross between television and film, horror seems like one of the most under-served on the small screen, which is one of the reasons I’ve so quickly grown fond of SyFy’s new original series Helix.
Obviously there are other shows on TV that tap into the horror genre, like Hannibal and American Horror Story, but their visual stylization almost puts a shiny sheen on what was once terrifying. And that isn’t meant to be a criticism; both are quite effective at storytelling and for Hannibal it’s probably the only way they can get away with showing what they do on NBC.
That’s also not to say that Helix doesn’t look visually interesting, because it certainly makes good use of its secluded stark medical / research lab setting. However, the primary difference between Helix and its counterparts is that it utilizes a blend of science fiction and classic horror tropes to build suspense and provide some scares.
Isolation Ups The Ante
[The following contains mild spoilers for the first three episode.]
As I mentioned before, one of Helix’s strongest horror elements is its isolated arctic locale. Research medical labs aren’t typically known for their warm and fuzzy vibes, so when you pair that with a remote location, the stakes just get higher. They are literally alone once the helicopter flies away in the pilot.
Of course this isn’t the only form of isolation utilized in the series. Characters become further isolated, on purpose, as a way of trying to contain the virus. And let’s be honest, in a crowded room full of panicky and possibly infected people, you are the only one looking out for yourself.
But even beyond that, the CDC team is so small that they often have to split up to accomplish the various tasks at hand – whether it be working in the lab (lookout for those infected monkeys), looking for evidence in the mostly locked-down facility (lookout for infected people), or crawling through the air duct system (lookout for your infected brother).
And all of that alone time only feeds into the paranoia and unsettling fear that something is out there, which isn’t farfetched given that someone infected with the virus is almost always on the loose. Plus Dr. Hatake and his team have been less than forthcoming with what’s really going on further lending itself to the distrust and unease that’s only grown as the unknown virus continues to spread.
But these feelings aren’t just evoked via the plot, Helix incorporates camera angles that we all know so well from horror movies. You know the ones, the shot that trails behind a character as if they are being followed and the one that positions the character just a bit more towards the edge of the frame than normal, which only means one thing – look out behind you!
The sound editing has also been quite effective. If you’re anything like me, silence can be eerie in its own right and from what I can recall most of the audio is diegetic, or at least pretty subtle, with the exception of the title card sequence that is. So the hum and beeping of machines and the hissing from the air vents is all that exists when things are going well. And none of those noises are all that calming or reassuring. This of course makes the sound of someone crawling through the air vents or banging on a door all that more jarring.
Whether the series can sustain this form of suspense is something we’ll just have to wait and see. I’ve long figured that horror doesn’t mix well with television because of its long form storytelling format. And while these horror elements initially grabbed my attention, I’d still like to see some more character development. Hopefully Helix will find a nice balance between the two in the coming weeks.
Helix airs on the SyFy channel Fridays at 10pm.
– The 2014 Calendar For TV Addicts –
Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour
Golden Globe Awards (NBC 8pm)
Screen Actor Guild Awards (TBS & TNT 8pm)
Super Bowl XLVIII (FOX)
The XXII Olympic Winter Games (NBC)
From award shows to big TV events, on and off the screen, here’s all the other things going on besides your regularly scheduled programming.
The Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour is already underway, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty more announcements to be made regarding your favorite networks, beloved TV shows, and future programming. All of the ‘big’ news will be covered by the major entertainment sites, but Deadline is a pretty good source for all of the nitty-gritty.
And if you aren’t a TV critic, but wish you could be there I recommend following these people on Twitter for the pseudo-front-row experience: Todd VanDerWerff from The AV Club, Daniel Fienberg from HitFix.com, Eric Goldman from IGN.com, and Eric Deggans from NPR.
This Sunday is The Golden Globe Awards, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey will be hosting the shindig again. If that’s isn’t enough of a reason to tune in then I don’t know what is.
Less than a week later is the 20th Annual Screen Actor Guild Awards. It should be interesting to see if Breaking Bad can clean up for it’s final season.
In February the TV landscape switches gears and sports take center stage with The Super Bowl XLVIII and The Winter Olympics. For better or worse, the NBC family of channels (NBC, USA, NBC Sports, CNBC, and MSNBC) will once again be handling all of the coverage for the winter games and with a pretty sizable time zone difference between the US and Sochi it should be interesting to see if we get more or less live coverage. Watching tape-delayed events during prime time for the 2012 Summer Olympics was rather anti-climatic after the Internet spoiled almost all of the results.
The line-up for the 2014 PaleyFest was recently announced and its pretty sweet. Some of the highlights include Veronica Mars kicking things off just one day before it officially hits the big screen, a 10th anniversary Lost panel, and a farewell to How I Met Your Mother. New shows like Orange Is The New Black, Sleepy Hollow, and Masters of Sex will also being making their festival debut. The annual event is held in Los Angeles so I’ve never tried to go, but most panels are live streamed so fear-not non-California dwelling TV fans. The panels usually make their way to Hulu too, so there’s a few ways to enjoy the PaleyFest without the travel expenses.
Other things to look forward to in 2014 include upfronts, San Diego Comic Con, and the ATX Television Festival.
I’m busy, my friends are busy (and some even live in different time zones), but we enjoy many of the same TV shows and it would be nice if we could occasionally watch them together, on our own time. However, if you aren’t watching TV live, it’s next to impossible to sync up online. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Wouldn’t it be nice if sites like Hulu or Netflix allowed you to invite friends to watch with you. Obviously your friend or friends would also need to be a user or have an account, but then ideally it would be as simple as sending them a link to the episode you intend to watch.
Then the ‘admin’ of the viewing party could handle hitting play or pause thereby creating a synchronous viewing experience. Also, a chat box would be part of the viewing interface so that you could, you know, chat while watching.
It could look something like this:
So what do you think fellow TV fans? Would it be more fun to turn online viewing into a group thing? Does this already exist? If so, let me know.
TV programing is pretty year round these days, so for the most part, the start of the new year isn’t any more special than say September or June. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t jump on the new year’s resolution bandwagon and relate it to TV.
So here’s my couch potato plans for 2014:
1. Marathon Battlestar Galactica
There are several concluded series on my perpetually growing ‘Must Watch List’, but this one is currently available in its entirety on Comcast OnDemand, so now seems like a good time to give it a try. Plus football season is winding down and with only four seasons I think I can squeeze it into my schedule during the long and boring winter months.
2. Watch More Imported TV
I enjoyed the BBC’s dark crime series Luther and I really love Canada’s sci-fi series Orphan Black, so I’d like to explore some more foreign TV shows… maybe Top of the Lake since it’s available on Netflix. Home-grown entertainment saturates the United States so it would be nice to try something from somewhere else every now and then, even if its just from our neighbors to the north.
3. Enjoy The More Obscure Winter Olympic Events
The 2014 Winter Olympics kick off on February 6th and while media coverage will no doubt focus on sports like ice skating and snowboarding, I’d also like to watch the events that don’t typically enjoy TV time like women’s ice hockey, curling, and bobsled. Some of the new events like luge team relay and women’s ski jump will no doubt be events that I also seek out.
4. Watch Amazon Originals
While it’s unrealistic to assume that entities like Hulu or Amazon will have the same success as Netflix when it comes to original programming, it’s also a bit unfair to simply write everyone else off. I enjoyed some of Amazon’s original comedy pilots so I might as well follow up on a few of them. Betas was ordered to series and the first three episodes are available for free. The others are accessible through Amazon Prime, which is where a free trial comes in handy.
5. Be More Selective
I watch a lot of TV, and not all of its even that good. In the last year or so I’ve been trying to be pickier about what I watch and for how long. I used to be a bitter-ender but that isn’t always a good trait (see: Charmed and Smallville), so while I’m not resolving to watch less TV, I am resolving to choose quality and entertainment value over quantity.
So what’s your TV-related new year’s resolutions? Any shows you look forward to or plan to watch in 2014?
Whether you’re celebrating the Holidays, stuck indoors due to the unpleasant wintery weather, or are just looking for a new activity for you and your friends, here’s a couple of games to play, all of which were invented by some of your favorite TV shows.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is in its 14th season, has aired over 300 episodes, and has even outlasted its two spin-off series. And while that is certainly an impressive feat for any TV show, there is always going to be a group of naysayers who proclaim that it’s gone downhill or that it should have called it quits when Grissom left.
And while I can’t argue that there weren’t some mediocre seasons or less than stellar episodes and even unfortunate cast departures, I still look forward to watching each and every new episode. And not even with a ‘I’m just watching this to see it through’ kind of attitude, I’m still genuinely engaged with the series and rooting for the night shift at the Las Vegas Crime Lab.
And here’s why:
1. The Characters
I’ve always been draw to TV shows with makeshift families at their core, one’s where character’s enjoy spending time with each other, so I appreciate that CSI has gone back to focusing on the friendly and lighthearted interpersonal relationships that made the first few seasons so much fun.
The show lost this element sometime during Sara’s departure, Warrick’s murder, and Grissom’s goodbye. But then it only got more depressing during the Ray Langston years, especially with all of the Nate Haskell drama.
But with the arrival of Ted Danson’s character, D.B. Russell, the CSI team is like a family again. But it’s not just his presence that has led to this turnaround, the character of Morgan Brody brings out a less adversarial side in Conrad Ecklie, the team of lab techs have really enhanced the comedic side of the series, and Elisabeth Shue’s Julie Finlay fits in well with the team too.
2. Engaging Online Presence
In my last blog post I talked about how the CBS Sync addition to their video player was a pretty nifty ‘enhanced viewing’ feature, but that’s not all CSI has to offer in the way of the viewing experience.
CSI of course has a CBS-run Twitter account (@CSI_CBS), but the writers have one of their own, and so do a few of the cast members (@davidberman88, @ericszmanda, @ElisabethHarnoi, & @kingoftrace), many of which regularly live tweet during episodes.
The @CSIWritersRoom account is also pretty consistently awesome about interacting with followers, tweeting behind the scene photos, and even sharing small glimpses of the whiteboard in the writers room.
Episode 1405 (the 300th) "Frame by Frame" pic.twitter.com/L07xKKZGcJ
— CSI Writers' Room (@CSIWritersRoom) August 30, 2013
They even interact with other TV show writer room Twitter accounts, which typically results in some rather amusing exchanges:
— CSI Writers' Room (@CSIWritersRoom) October 10, 2013
3. CSI Is Like Comfort Food
Perhaps this is just evidence of my desensitization, but hear me out on this one. Compared to a lot of other current TV series, CSI is actually pretty tame despite the very subject matter of its stories. I mean which one would you rather watch right before bed – CSI or American Horror Story, Hannibal, The Following, Criminal Minds, Law & Order: SVU, or Game of Thrones?
Plus, the whole long running procedural format really lends itself to any-hour-of-the-day viewing. It’s the kind of show that’s entertaining when you’re paying attention and even enjoyable when you’re not.
That, and after all of these years the formula is comfortingly predictable too. I mean we all know that the overly helpful witness really did it, that or the special guest star.
So if you’ve long given up on CSI, maybe now’s the time to give it a second chance. Try jumping back in at season 12 or you know watching new episodes on CBS, Wednesday nights at 10pm.
If you’ve watched an episode of Modern Family, Saturday Night Live, or Scandal on Hulu recently you might have noticed some Pop Up Video-like tidbits appearing on the screen while the episode was playing.
Apparently Hulu is experimenting with a new feature they call ‘Enhanced Viewing’, which “…showcases quotes and memes that capture funny moments, pieces of trivia, and tweets from fans and actors alike that reflect the moment you just watched.” They can also be shared on Facebook, Twitter, or simply “Liked”.
Given that I’m the kind of TV nerd who follows showrunners, writers, and actors on Twitter and also buys TV on DVD for the special features and the episode commentary, the Enhanced Viewing feature is the kind of thing I find intriguing. But right now I’m not so much a fan of its execution.
While it can be simply turned off, just click on the video setting gear icon to disable the feature, I find it annoying to have the actual information displayed on the same screen as the episode I am watching.
Have you experience the Enhanced Viewing feature yet? What do you think about it? Are any of the extra tidbits worth the interruption?
Yes To Bonus Features – No To Distracting Pop-Ups
Although CBS isn’t typically associated with having an Internet savvy audience, CBS’s viewers are the oldest among the broadcast networks with a median age of 58.2, they’ve already introduced a similar feature to their own online video player. (If you hadn’t already noticed, CBS’s current content is not available on Hulu.com, which is realistically the only reason I even noticed.)
Dubbed ‘CBS Sync’, it works much the same way that Hulu’s Enhanced Viewing feature works – by displaying behind the scenes information, trivia, polls, exclusive photos, video and more, all timed exactly to what’s happening. However, the CBS Sync feature is relegated to an easy-to-hide sidebar that updates with new tidbits without ever interfering with the episode.
Plus, if you do choose to click on one of these bonus things, the episode will automatically pause as a pop-up window appears. And when you close the CBS Sync window, the video will likewise automatically resume for a seamless viewing experience. Pretty nifty.
Besides being far less annoying, I also find the bonus content to be more interesting on CBS.com. For example, while watching an episode of CSI, evidence stills are displayed if you’d like to take a closer look and callbacks to older episodes and crime scenes are explained.
Now of course I am comparing a long running crime drama to an episode of Modern Family, which is a bit unfair, but it still begs the question as to where Hulu.com is getting the bonus material from.
How much buy-in do they have to have from the broadcast networks / production companies? I have to imagine that CBS has the advantage of having easier access to this kind of stuff.
Bottom line, I’m all for enhancing the online viewing experience but I think Hulu.com could learn something from CSB.com when it comes to this specific kind of feature. And that is something I never thought I’d say.