At New York Comic Con, Syfy presented a look at its upcoming series 12 Monkeys, loosely based on Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film. The panel began with a brief video introduction by two of the series stars, Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull, followed by a screening of the first 10 minutes of the pilot.
The footage makes it clear that the series will be its own creation, from the changes to the characters – Madeleine Stowe’s psychologist Dr. Kathryn Railly has become Schull’s Dr. Cassandra Railly, an infectious disease specialist – to a different vision of the future, to a new set of rules for time travel. “Break the past and the future follows,” Cole (played by Stanford) says as he demonstrates this to a skeptical Railly.
The panel featured co-executive producers Terry Matales and Travis Fickett, who also wrote the pilot, and showrunner Natalie Chaidez. They were later joined by actor Emily Hampshire, who plays Jennifer Goines, the series’ version of Jeffrey Goines (memorably portrayed in the film by Brad Pitt).
“The exciting thing for us is the movie is such a captivating world,” Chaidez said, “and you catch glimpses of the world and so what’s great for us to dig into the parts of the movie that captivated our imagination but we didn’t get time to explore it.”
The character of Cassandra is the key to the show. “She’s our window into this supernatural world,” Chaidez said. “She’s the ordinary character and we’ll watch her grapple with the ramifications of that. There’s a time between when Cole comes to her and then when we pick up again, which has been a difficult period for her.” Although Chaidez didn’t go into detail, Cassandra’s name seems to hint at the direction.
The panelists clearly sought to avoid addressing how time travel works on the series, but they explained they had many fights in their efforts to plot it all out.
“You have to work out as much as possible,” Fickett said. “Cole is the first, so he’s learning as he’s going, and the rules will unfold across the first season.”
Matales made it clear there will be multiple time periods depicted over the course of the first season. “We don’t go there arbitrarily,” he said. “It needs to make sense to the plot. By the end of the pilot you’ll see where we’re going.”
Chaidez wrote for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and for her “the biggest lesson was to keep stories emotional and not cerebral.”
With regard to the outbreak storyline, which has become a topical issue in recent weeks, the writers were clearly unnerved. “We didn’t think we were going to be topical,” Fickett said. “Nor did we want to be.”
The depiction of the future is decidedly different than the surreal one seen in the film, which the writers acknowledged only Gilliam could do. That vision also played into the themes of the movie, which are very different than those of the show.
“So much of the movie is, is Cole insane or not?” Fickett said, noting that in the show, they explain from the beginning that he’s clearly a time traveler.
“Not to say that he’s sane,” Matales added.
12 Monkeys premieres Jan. 16 on Syfy.