Critic's Pick

TV Picks: 'Helix,' 'Shakespeare,' 'Parks and Rec,' 'Greenville'

TV watchers, Robert Lloyd this week directs your attention to "Helix," Shakespeare and "Parks and Recreation."

"Helix" (Syfy, Fridays). Ronald D. Moore, who rebooted "Battlestar Galactica" and brought the highland romantic fantasy "Outlander" to the TV screen, is an executive producer of and contributing writer to this well-wrought sci-fi suspense serial, now in its second season. It's what might be called variously derivative -- a scrap-yard machine whose component parts have included an isolated Arctic setting, an out-of-control super-virus, quasi-zombies, a shadowy corporate cabal and dangerous immortals. You know the drill. But the package is classy, even classical; the performances are good; and the attitude is just perverse enough for the show to be genuinely surprising and even shocking at times. This year, the aforementioned arctic laboratory having gone up in flames, the setting has shifted to a mysterious island, which, though non-tropical, brings with it thoughts of "Lost" -- an impression strengthened by the series' newly introduced dual timelines (the current season takes place now and 30 years from now), cult in a compound, things that go bump in the woods and the presence of Hiroyuki Sanada (temple master Dogen in "Lost" season 6). But unlike "Lost," it does not seem to be making itself up as it goes along, and though bits and pieces are held back for dramatic mystification and delayed gratification, the long arc, even from here, feels structurally sound and essentially straightforward. (The creative team includes "The Middleman" man -- and "Lost" writer-producer -- Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who has thought deeply about these things: See his much-circulated essay on "operational themes.") Once again, the CDC is on the case -- new season, new virus -- although former team leader Billy Campbell is pursuing a dark agenda of his own. (He knows things, presumably horrible things.) Icky, loopy fun.

"Shakespeare Uncovered" (PBS, Fridays). A second round for this engaging, enlightening and often-terrifically exciting, play-by-play, celebratory master class on the inexhaustible works of William Shakespeare -- you know him. Each episode is presented by a different well-known actor, who will have something personal, from inside experience, to say about the play at hand. (Last season saw Derek Jacobi, in his unpacking of "Richard II," put forth the case for the Earl of Oxford as the true author of what we call Shakespeare -- well, let him have his fun.) The series' original, less sensational U.K. title is "My Shakespeare," and one does feel that the thoughts and most of the words are the host's own. The six new episodes come two at a time: First up are Christopher Plummer on the magnificent "King Lear" and Hugh Bonneville walking us through "A Midsummer Night's Dream" from "Now, fair Hippolyta" to "Robin shall restore amends." Scholars and colleagues chime in authoritatively along the way, and there are many tasty morsels of the plays themselves, in performance and rehearsal, onstage or in the movies. The new Old Globe theater, sitting stately near its original site on the south bank of the Thames, is the series' geographical and spiritual anchor, though the show ranges far and wide in time and space. Everything human is here. Upcoming: David Harewood on "Othello"; Joseph Fiennes on "Romeo and Juliet," as if you couldn't see that coming; Morgan Freeman on "The Taming of the Shrew," in which he detects the seeds of modern screwball comedy; and, who you likely were not expecting, Kim Cattrall, on "Antony and Cleopatra." (She's played it, so back off.)

"Parks and Recreation" (NBC, Tuesdays); "Breaking Greenville" (TruTV, Thursdays). "Parks and Recreation" continues its two-by-two March into history, an accelerated exit that you may well view as a network burn-off but that, practically speaking, suits the way we watch now and has given these final days an added dash of eventfulness. It's a love story in the form of a workplace comedy -- the love between a woman and her job, and with everyone connected with that job, and with the town they live in, and with waffles. At the start, it was a story of female friendship (then rarely told, now almost kind of a TV thing); before there was Abbi and Ilana, there was Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins. (It's not insignificant that star Amy Poehler had earlier been part of another female power dyad, cohosting "Weekend Update" with Tina Fey, with whom she remains Hope-and-Crosby-tied in the public mind.) But love is everywhere uncontained in this show, which, indeed, has been dedicating its final episodes to finding someone for everyone (along with critiques of gentrification and hipster capitalists). And as it's always been, even before the creators might have grasped it, it's the story of the love between Leslie and temperamental opposite Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman), the Lou Grant to her Mary Richards. That the current episodes are set in 2017, let them start the season as enemies and reunite as friends; their rift could not withstand the brunt of her love. Love, love, love, love, love.

"Breaking Greenville," a new reality series on TruTV, is another small-town, workplace comedy, about dueling small-market news teams; both "Parks and Recreation" and "Mary Tyler Moore" are, therefore, in its DNA, mutated and degenerated, to be sure, but easily detectable. As usual with these things, the quotes around "reality" are meaningful and, at the same time, irrelevant. Given what seems to be the genuine quirkiness of the characters -- parochial, self-deluded, ambitious, aspiring, a cast Christopher Guest might deem worthy of an unreal documentary -- how much is exaggeration, how much invention and how much actual is hard to reckon and, again, not worth the bother. It's well-conceived, as these things go, and charming, by local standards.

Robert Lloyd tweets like a boid @LATimesTVLloyd.

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