12 Monkeys: What to Expect From the Latest Doomsday Drama

12 Monkeys
Alicia Gbur/Syfy
12 Monkeys

2015 Preview | Premieres Friday, Jan. 16, 9/8c, Syfy

Let’s face it, the future sucks. At least that’s what countless movies and TV shows have been telling us in recent years. Now 12 Monkeys will take the apocalypse to a whole other level of devastation. The new Syfy series, based on the acclaimed 1995 Bruce Willis–Brad Pitt film, reveals that a virus, seemingly unleashed by a shadowy group known as the Army of the 12 Monkeys, will kill 7 billion people worldwide. The few “lucky” humans who survive due to immunity will go underground and most will become desperate scavengers—a new kind of walking dead known as Scavs—who will not hesitate to kill for a can of creamed corn.

But even in the bleakest of doomsday scenarios, there’s always hope, right? That comes in the form of James Cole, a heroic weirdo from the year 2043 played by Aaron Stanford (Nikita), who travels back in time to the present day to try to prevent the virus from getting out. Needing help to track down the source of the plague, Cole links up with gorgeous virologist Cassandra Railly (Suits alum Amanda Schull) and wild-child mental patient Jennifer Goines (Rookie Blue‘s Emily Hampshire), who can’t stop sketching the Army’s logo of a ferocious, screaming simian. Jennifer is a feminization of the role that brought Pitt his first Oscar nomination, just one of many changes that could excite fans of the movie or leave them squawking.

“There’s a natural level of skepticism about our series that’s coming from the sci-fi community,” notes showrunner Natalie Chaidez (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles). “The film was brilliantly done by [director] Terry Gilliam, so to reimagine it is daunting. But it’s also an incredible opportunity to open up the story and see more of the cool stuff people loved.”

That will include plenty of wonky time travel—in 2043, it’s still such an imprecise science that, at one point, Cole accidentally zaps to 1950s Korea—and lots of time spent in the postapocalyptic grueling wasteland. “Cole comes from a time and place most of us can’t even begin to understand,” says Stanford. “And he’s equally thrown by the world of 2015. It’s as if he’s a space alien.”

Cole is also carrying immense guilt and heartache over some of the things he was willing to do to survive in his youth. “The guy’s not just trying to save the world,” Stanford says. “He’s looking for redemption.”