6 Things We Learnt Watching The Pilot For SyFy's 12 Monkeys
SyFy took advantage of last week's New York Comic Con to debut the pilot episode for their ambitious adaptation of Terry Gilliam's time-travelling disaster movie, Twelve Monkeys. I was lucky enough to feast my admittedly skeptical eyes on the the show's first 45 minutes during an event at New York's Paley Center, and I have to admit, I'm cautiously optimistic. Here are 6 things we learnt from watching the pilot and listening to the crew discuss the show in a Q&A:
1. It's more of a 'Whodunnit' than a pandemic show
That's what Executive Producer, Terry Matalas said of the show during a Q&A after the screening, and that's certainly the direction it seemed to be going from the pilot. Bouncing around between 2043, 2015 and 2013, the pilot starts in motion what the crew described as an incredibly complex timeline of mystery, action and time travel jargon. The plague that wiped out most of humanity will serve as mere background for what will become one of the most ambitious (mass)-murder mysteries in years. Finding out who was responsible for causing the plague is obviously the main driver behind the plot, but the executive producers teased that there are some incredibly complex characters to explore before we even get close to seizing an answer. This is one of the main reasons I think this show will succeed. Focusing too much on the time-travel/plague factors will open the show up to far too much comparison with Gilliam's original and that's a comparison which no reboot would ever come out of in a favorable manner. By making 12 Monkeys a character-driven story, it adds a totally different element to a classic science fiction story while also making it more sustainable.
2. You won't know who to root for.
Between Aaron Stanford's brilliantly complex James Cole, Amanda Schull's unhinged Cassandra Railly and a seemingly never-ending list of potential masterminds of the plague, 12 Monkeys will have you questioning where your loyalties lie. Sure, Cole and Railly may represent the light side in the pilot, and Zeliko Ivanek's Leland Frost is clearly an unsavory character, but the waters will be muddied by the shadowy future-based organization responsible for sending Cole back to stop the plague. Matalas revealed that, as Cole's investigations deepen, he will begin to question why he is doing what he is doing, which should lead to a deep mental involvement of the audience. The crew also said that their army of the 12 Monkeys will play a far more involved role throughout the life of the show, which can only be a good thing.
3. This will be one of the most complex TV worlds since Game of Thrones.
Creating a time travel timeline for a movie is hard work, but creating a time travel timeline for a show which could run for multiple seasons seems like career suicide! Showrunner Natalie Chaidez revealed the timeline for 12 Monkeys is so complex there's a whole room and team of assistants dedicated to managing it, so every splinter, paradox and gun shot matches up exactly with the stories wider universe. Admit it, we all love to nitpick at continuity and logistics issues when it comes to time travel, but when it comes to 12 Monkeys it sounds as though that nitpicking will be fairly minimal.
4. The release of this show couldn't be more timely.
The inevitable questions about the current Ebola outbreak were asked during the Q&A, and Terry Matalas revealed that while they wouldn't be looking to incorporate real-life events into their storyline, there was an unfortunately coincidental moment last week when the show was filming on set. A production crew had arrived in Macedonia to start dressing a live set, which included putting up fake quarantine and hazard signs along the streets. No sooner had they done so than a story broke that a British tourist had contracted Ebola right there in Macedonia. A concerned crew put in calls to the EPs back in the US to let them know that their hotel had been locked down before they could remove the signs. In the end, it transpired that the British man did not lose his life to the disease, but with the outbreak looking like continuing well beyond the show's 2015 release date, 12 Monkeys could be worryingly on trend.
5. We're pretty certain Terry Gilliam isn't a fan of the project.
The shows team of Executive Producers were unsurprisingly cagey when it came to answering questions about Terry Gilliam's thoughts on the adaptation. We've heard from a number of sources that Gilliam, who is known to be remarkably protective of his projects, was less than positive when he discovered that SyFy were adapting Twelve Monkeys for TV. Matalas, Chaidez and Travis Fickett instead preferred to draw attention to the fact that the writers of Gilliam's movie, Janet and David Peoples were, on the whole, positive about their plans for the show. After Chaidez said she would love Gilliam to direct the season finale, Fickett took a cheap shot at the director by saying that all they would end up with in that case would be a documentary about trying to direct the finale.
6. This could be the next great SyFy show.
Let's be brutally honest for a moment. SyFy hasn't been able to fill the void left by Battlestar Galactica when it came off our screens in 2009. Many shows have come close, though. Haven, Warehouse 13 and to a lesser extent, Defiance have all been relatively well received by fans, but from what I have seen, 12 Monkeys could take the network to the next level. If they can maintain the intensity of the pilot throughout the course of the show's first season, it's hard not to see 12 Monkeys becoming a hit. Emily Hampshire's portrayal of Jennifer Goines' was only teased in the pilot, but to hear her talk about what they are doing with this character (played by Brad Pitt in the movie), it could be the spark this show needs to grab people's attention. As for the effects, they are remarkably smart, yet understated, which gives the show a lo-fi sci-fi aesthetic that should sit well with today's audience. Seriously, come next year, I think there will be a lot of buzz around this show.
12 Monkeys debuts on SyFy on January 16th 2015.