Last night, Syfy unveiled their new lineup of television shows at their Upfront presentation. And we caught our first glimpses of two shows already in production: the space show Ascension, and the Terry Gilliam adaptation 12 Monkeys. Here's what we saw.
Here's what we officially know (from the press release):
In 1963, the U.S. government launched a covert space mission sending hundreds of men, women and children on a century-long voyage aboard the starship Ascension to populate a new world. Nearly 50 years into the journey, as they approach the point of no return, a mysterious murder of a young woman causes the ship's population to question the true nature of their mission.
Here's what we saw (in a teaser comprised of fake footage):
The teaser opens with President Kennedy's 1962 "We Chose to Go to the Moon" speech. "We meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance… therefore, as we set sail we ask God's blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked." It's a great speech, and you should read it all here.
The voiceover jumps around but carries throughout the rest of the fake teaser, really slamming that whole "important Americana moment" home; it works.
All the while, a group of exceptionally good-looking young folks are being filmed listening to this lecture. Every character is done up in their best '60s attire. Zoom in on a young, white family watching the President on their television while their two kids play on the carpet in front of them. A single young black man leans forward intently listening to the speech on his radio. Everyone is serious, and seriously wearing the hell out of their costumes.
A god's eye view focuses in over a random table. A collection of blueprints are unrolled, revealing plans for a very large spaceship. Oooh, that's a large spaceship!
Cut to a classroom. A batch of grade-school kids put their hands over their hearts and recite the pledge of allegiance. But it's different! It's a modified pledge goes, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to this journey [something something] to preserve the race of humanity." Close up on the American flag, which is ALSO different. Instead of rows of stars in the left corner, the symbolic stars have been regrouped into a circle or hexagon. It's probably important? The teacher writes on the chalk board, "today's date is November 24, 2014" [Edit: I don't actually remember the date but it was definitely 2014]. So clearly this is the now, but everyone aboard is still dressing as if this was the past. There has been no visible cultural evolution that I could spot, since the 1960s.
Cut to a hallway of sporty looking white kids a la Pleasantville walking down a hallway. The camera pans up and you can tell they're all walking under a large chamber of some kind. There is no outside. This is clearly inside the ship that was teased earlier. A gorgeous girl in an old timey beehive hairdo looks out the window — and we zoooooom out to reveal that this isn't a regular window, this is a spaceship window!
All in all, it looks great. But sadly, that teaser wasn't real! So we're not sure what to think other than: It's a cool idea, and we hope they go for it hard. That being said, it's just really nice to see Syfy headed back to the stars. Truly excited about that fact alone. Now for a few more details...
After the brief screening, we spoke with the first member of the cast, Battlestar Galactica's Tricia Helfer — and although she wouldn't say much she did reveal that her role was the number two behind the president of the ship, or whatever you will call him (the Captain?). And that there's more to her than meets the eye, as we'd assumed. Helfer also used the term "ensemble" cast QUITE a lot.
And as she is the only cast thus far, there is no doubt that the tone of the series will grow one direction or the other based on who they nab. But bringing Helfer back to the Syfy fold is a great move. Oh and one more thing, when we asked her if there was a Lost-like quality to this series, she immediately replied "Yes!"
But what really got us excited was how Bill McGoldrick (the Executive VP Original Scripted Programming) described the show. When we asked him if this was being pitched as Mad Men in space, he replied:
"No, I almost said Downton Abbey in space. There's an upstairs/downstairs aspect to it. You gotta think, kinda, Titanic. In the show they call it 'above deck' and 'below deck'... The below deck people are convinced that they shouldn't go any further, that they need to turn the ship around. They don't trust the authority because they've been so subjugated. They're thinking, 'We don't know if they're ever going to find this place, we don't know if the right people are in charge, let's turn around and go home.' And when we enter the show, you see a lot of that."
And now onto 12 Monkeys, the TV series. The teaser we saw was actual footage from the show — but it was cut together fast and in long trailer form, so we don't have a real, solid idea of what was happening. But here's what we saw:
The reel starts with Aaron Stanford playing the Bruce Willis character. He's got long hair (which ha!) and he looks beat as hell. Stanford gives the voiceover explaining the basic 12 Monkey premise — if you've seen Terry Gilliam's movie you know already. But if you haven't, here it is: The future world is basically destroyed by a chemical attack that spreads a highly contagious disease across the planet, ruining everything. The government starts sending convicts back in time to gather information in hopes of stopping this tragedy. Here's where this show differs.
Stanford's character does not appear to be mentally disturbed from years of imprisonment and terrible treatment. He certainly appears to be edgy and pissed off, but not unstable. He also doesn't appear to have been sent back against his will. I have no idea if the second is true, it just didn't seem like that. Stanford goes back in time and meets Amanda Schull, from CENTER STAGE. And we gotta be honest it was all we could do not to just start screaming Jamiroquai song lyrics. Schull is playing the doctor that ordered Stanford to go back. Which whaaat? When he Stanford meets Schull for the first time she says, "How do you know my name?" And he responds, "You gave me this mission." Oooook.
Enter actor Zeljko Ivanek (which aaaaaah excellent). He asks what he did that was so evil that the laws of physics had to be erased. So either he's the good guy or the bad guy — but our hunch is, it's more complicated than that.
Stanford becomes more and more aggressive (good) and starts screaming and defending his decision to kill some character with "He's already dead, you're dead we're all dead, dead."
Lots of cuts on a wrist watch that is important to Stanford. He finds the watch in a post apocalyptic scene on the skeletal arm of someone. Then there are two watches, when they're put together they seem to generate electricity. We're assuming this is a visual representation of a time paradox.
Schull asks Stanford how he'll know if he's succeeded in his mission, " I'll be erased," he responds gruffly.
Lots and lots of cuts back to a tropey wall covered in press clippings, Stanford is ripping page after page down, only to reveal the 12 Monkeys symbol! Dunah!!!!!
Our gut instinct? Looks good. Fingers crossed, they tweak some of Amanda Schull's dialogue. Because the big line she had to deliver, "I don't know what I believe, but I've got a lot of god damn questions," did not work. And it's hard not to imagine her in toe shoes.
But it's probably a very good thing that this series is taking a hard step away from the very stylized original film. But thankfully there still are nice nods to it with hints of grey tones in the future, and the classic Monkeys symbol. This could really work as a show.