Syfy isn’t exactly known for its high-quality, critically celebrated programming. The Sci-Fi Channel, home to cult space drama Battlestar Galactica, effectively distanced itself from its science fiction roots in 2009 with the rebranding of “Syfy.” While the network continues airing a few genre classics (The Twilight Zone, Star Trek: The Next Generation), Syfy is now known for WWE Smackdown, reality/competition programs like Ghost Hunters and Face Off and made-for-TV movies featuring D-list actors, bad special effects and, often, two scary things combined into one mega-terror (Ice Spiders, Frankenfish, Sharktopus). Syfy doesn’t shy away from its reputation for cranking out increasingly ridiculous disaster epics — each of which is met with growing audiences (why else would they be making Sharknado 2?). In short, Syfy can come off as a bit of a joke — a joke it’s totally in on and taking to the bank. But its new series Helix (10 p.m. Fridays) — from Battlestar creator Ron Moore — is seriously good.
Everyone loves a good outbreak drama, be it a zombie apocalypse like The Walking Dead or the rage outbreak in 28 Days Later — and Helix delivers. A group of CDC scientists travels to a high-tech research facility base in Antarctica to study an unknown but dangerous virus. Each episode covers a single day as the scientists try to identify the disease while it spreads across the base. As the situation becomes increasingly grave, it is clear that the arctic base team has a different agenda from the CDC.
A couple corny characters pop up to remind viewers they’re watching Syfy, but for the most part the acting is convincing and the story is very compelling. Hats off to the network for presenting a genuinely suspenseful, fascinating series that puts the science — er, “syence” — back in Syfy.
Modern Family (9 p.m., ABC) – Phil employs some new gadgets as he and Claire spy on Luke, Manny and their questionable friend. Haley is invited to participate in a photography exhibit but doesn’t want her family to find out.
Workaholics (10 p.m., Comedy Central) -– The TelAmeriCorp office hosts elections for employee snack monitor.
Broad City (10:30 p.m., Comedy Central) -– The girls take on major responsibilities this week: Ilana begins working for a temp agency while Abbi promises to watch out for a neighbor’s package (but fails, missing the delivery).
THURSDAY FEB. 6
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (Series Finale, 11:30 p.m., NBC) – Garth Brooks and Billy Crystal join Jay as he hosts his final Tonight Show. Leno has hosted since 1992 (except for that time in 2009 when he gave the reins to Conan O’Brien only to quickly take them back); Jimmy Fallon takes over starting Feb. 17, bringing the show to New York for the first time since 1972. Seth Meyers begins hosting Late Night the following week.
The Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Games (7:30 p.m., NBC) – The 22nd Winter Olympics take over Sochi (which means sports coverage takes over primetime NBC) through Feb. 23.
Lil Bub’s Special Special (9 p.m., Animal Planet) – Internet celebrity, CityBeat cover girl and all-around mystifying cat Lil Bub is having a slumber party, and you’re invited! Join Bub and her friends Amy Sedaris and Andrew W.K. for prank calls, pizza, pillow fights and more shenanigans.
SUNDAY FEB. 9
The Walking Dead (Midseason Premiere, 9 p.m., AMC) – After December’s (literally) explosive midseason finale, the group is back to square one: separated with no means of communication or shelter, dealing with incredible physical and emotional wounds. Also this season: more flashbacks and a closer look at the “sanctuary” teased earlier this season in a radio message. Talking Dead follows at 10 p.m.
True Detective (9 p.m., HBO) – Cohle and Hart go off the books in a series of dangerous attempts to nab murder suspect Ledoux.
Girls (10 p.m., HBO) -– Hannah lands a gig writing advertorials for GQ and the lucky bitch dares to complain about working in a corporate atmosphere.
TUESDAY FEB. 11
Justified (10 p.m., FX) – Our two leading men stand up for their ladies this week — Raylan seeks retaliation for Alison’s attack as Boyd fights to protect Ava.
Kroll Show (10:30 p.m., Comedy Central) – Riffs on Shark Tank, the TSA, aging Rock stars and more.