Billy Campbell, Hiroyuki Sanada
Made you jump. It's about time a Syfy show had that effect on us again.
Syfy's Helix (Friday, 10/9c) is a chiller in every sense of the word, a welcome return to gripping sci-fi form for a network that has lately ceded bragging rights to AMC (The Walking Dead), FX (American Horror Story) and even The CW (The Vampire Diaries) in the competitive arena of hardcore genre buzz. The spirit of Michael Crichton permeates this claustrophobic exercise in suspenseful paranoia, from Battlestar Galactica's Ronald D. Moore and series creator Cameron Porsandeh, who sets the first season almost entirely at an icy Arctic research compound that's actually a hothouse for mysteriously grisly medical experiments.
Tobey Maguire, Tim Robbins
Here's the thing about satire: Parody has a sharper sting if what's being ridiculed is actually relevant. And while it looks like everyone's having a grand time lampooning the old-school histrionics of the classic TV miniseries "epic" in IFC's elaborate all-star Funny or Die put-on The Spoils of Babylon, I'm afraid the fun isn't all that contagious, in part because the joke is such a stale one to begin with.
The whole enterprise, which consists of six half-hour chapters (the first two airing back-to-back starting Thursday at 10/9c), has the musty whiff of one of those movies derived from so-so Saturday Night Live sketches. Each installment opens with a staged intro, featuring a heavily made-up Will Ferrell as a rotund Orson Welles-like egomaniac impresario (described as "author, producer, actor, writer, director, raconteur, bon vivant, legend, fabulist" — and that's just the first episode's credits) who sinks further and further into his (wine) cups as he reflects on his lost late-'70s "masterpiece," which he self-financed as if he were Scrooge McDuck.
Jon Seda, Jason Beghe
The original Law & Order seems like such a distant, and classy, memory these days. Dick Wolf's mini-empire within NBC now runs on a higher octane of lurid overkill. While Chicago Fire is a harmless enough, though largely forgettable, soap about telegenic first responders, its no-brainer (and brainless) spinoff, Chicago PD, is the most arrogantly conceived display of bare-knuckled hooey since the mercifully short-lived Ironside reboot, which polluted the same Wednesday 10/9c time period last fall.
Meghan Ory, Josh Holloway and Marg Helgenberger
He's a hunkier Chuck with the mad fighting skills, reckless bravado — and propensity toward angst — of Alias's Sydney Bristow. Meet TV's new Six Billion Dollar Man, Gabriel Vaughn, who you'll recognize as Sawyer from Lost. And Josh Holloway is very much the main reason to tune into CBS's Intelligence (Tuesday, 9/8c), a proficient if initially perfunctory action thriller that benefits immeasurably from its star's gruff, bluff machismo. Although a little less brooding (over a long-missing wife who might be a terrorist) would make Gabriel, and Intelligence, a lot more fun.
Question: [RETROACTIVE SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE NOT KEEPING UP] I'm watching Homeland and Sons of Anarchy more out of habit than passion these days, after what I thought were disappointing seasons for both. But even so, I was startled when their seasons ended on such grim notes in December, with the violent deaths of major characters. Which surprised you more: Brody's execution as Carrie bore witness on Homeland or Tara's brutal murder at Gemma's hands on Sons? Or did you see each of these events as inevitable? On the same note, which show do you think is better positioned to bounce back from these game-changers, or did they maybe (and I know you hate the expression) jump the shark? — Cass
Nightmares within dreams within waking nightmares — life is just a howl in the viscerally creepy world of MTV's Teen Wolf. Recently voted "Fan Favorite" by TV Guide Magazine readers (and rewarded a December cover), this unexpectedly enjoyable monster mash is back to finish an extended third season (Monday, 10/9c) with its main characters deep in the thrall of post-traumatic stress, supernatural variety.
Was it really so hard finding good help in those days? When Robert, aka Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), is informed that his wife is once again bereft of a lady's maid, he overdramatically moans, "Are we living under a curse?"
There's no question a pall thicker than London fog hangs heavy over Downton Abbey in its fourth year as Masterpiece Classic's signature series (Sunday, 9/8c, on PBS; check tvguide.com listings). Not only has Lady Cora's bedchamber not been the same since her scheming servant O'Brien left — she slinks away in the opening scene, and boy, is she missed — but the family and staff are in sustained mourning over the untimely (and contrived) death, six months earlier, of heir Matthew Crawley, Lady Mary's husband, in last year's unhappy finale.
Happy New TV Year! With the Winter Olympics only a little more than a month away, the networks are wasting no time premiering new and returning shows through January, making this almost as busy a month for programming as the heights of September. Let the winter midseason begin.
BACK TO SCHOOL: Some underdogs adopt a never-say-die mentality. In the fringe world of wackiness known as NBC's Community, it's more like never say graduate, as the cult comedy returns for an against-the-odds fifth season with back-to-back episodes (Thursday, 8/7c) once again under the warped tutelage of mercurial series creator Dan Harmon. (For more on his and the show's comeback, go here.)
Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul
1. Breaking Bad
What a way to go out — with a bang, on a tragic yet triumphant high, at the peak of popularity and notoriety. What could be more satisfying than that? There wasn't a wasted moment or unexplored opportunity for suspenseful conflict in the intense last chapters of AMC's masterful thriller, charting Walter White's ultimate descent into criminal infamy. Bryan Cranston brilliantly captured the character's mood swings, from wounded pride to murderous rage to sorrow over the family he lost due to his dark machinations. No maddening ambiguities in this grand finale...
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Question: Announcing a plan to take their top dramas off the air to avoid reruns is one thing, but how do you think ABC is actually going to fare for the next couple of months while Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, Once Upon a Time and Revenge take two-month breathers? I am a fan of the airing-consecutively strategy, but I'm afraid they won't stick to this model, because quite frankly, the new shows they are using as substitutes in these timeslots don't look very good. What happens if something bombs? Will they have no choice but to rush these signature shows back to the air sooner?