On the heels of the mutant superhero show that crushed NBC’s meandering “Heroes” (“Alphas”) Syfy of late has blasted back with the best zombie show you haven’t seen, “Z Nation” and the slightly too ambitious mini-series “Ascension.”
Next up is “12 Monkeys,” an expansion on Terry Gilliam’s time-twisting cult classic from 1995.
And viewers, it’s good.
The series reboots the original by returning time-traveling James Cole (the role first played by Bruce Willis) as he’s sent back from 2043 to track down the source of a viral whooping cough. The strain kills 7 billion people by 2017, pushing humanity to the brink of extinction.
This time, Cole (Aaron Stanford “X2,” ABC’s “Traveler”) is equipped with more information and less manic insanity than Willis, and is a little more willing to get involved. Less crazy and more driven, it’s a nice adaptation.
Cole meets Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull, from “One Tree Hill,” “Pretty Little Liars,” and “Suits”) in a hunt for a mysterious man believed to be tied to the epidemic’s origins. From there, it’s a wild chase that involves a killer with hints of the Internet’s “Slender Man” legend, the daughter of a scientist driven mad by what she knows, and of course, The Army of the 12 Monkeys.
From the beginning, there are tips that time travel is all about paradoxes. But as time machine boss Jones (Barbara Sukowa) tells Cole: “Not even a paradox can hold you back.”
The show doesn’t disappoint, with Easter eggs sprinkled throughout in passing glances at newspapers and TV reports, or in glimpses of characters passing in the background.
Emily Hampshire shines as the lunatic replacement for Brad Pitt’s character in the original. And a big hat tip to musical directors Paul Linford and Trevor Rabin for adding a dash of an Internet meme, the late Eduard Khil (“Mr. Trololo”), in episode two. Listen closely about 12 minutes in, and you’ll either break out laughing or curse yourself for spending way too much time on YouTube.
And for those already uneasy about mutant flu strains and the Ebola virus, the official website offers clues that will send them running for a Dustin Hoffman-esque Hazmat suit.
To be fair, “12 Monkeys” is far from perfect. There are many pat answers and shortcuts in the early episodes. But for NBC Universal, it’s better than anything the NBC flagship is airing this year.
Syfy, once known only as the home of “Sharknado” and the “Battlestar Glacatica” reboot, is showing it can produce compelling stories attractive to more than fanboy, sci-fi geeks. Smart, stylish and fast-moving, “12 Monkeys” deserves a look.
“12 Monkeys” premieres at 9 p.m. EST. Jan. 16 on Syfy. You can watch the show’s first nine minutes at Syfy.com.
DID YOU KNOW: Bruce Willis, who starred in the 1995 film ’12 Monkeys,’ was handed a list of acting cliches he couldn’t fall back upon during the production, according to the BBC.