Forget sharknados and whatever creature Tara Reid is, because Syfy is finally getting back to sci-fi basics with two of its upcoming projects, the space drama Ascension and the time-traveling 12 Monkeys. Ascension was ordered as a six-episode miniseries but could potentially run for multiple seasons, similar to the network's popular series Battlestar Galactica—and coincidentally starring BSG's Tricia Helfer. 12 Monkeys is a re-imagining of Terry Gilliam's 1995 film of the same name, about a man from the future who travels back to the present day to eradicate the source of a deadly plague that will eventually decimate the human race.
Ascension, which is set to premiere Monday, November 24, was inspired by the real-life Project Orion that existed under President John F. Kennedy. The series follows a covert space mission that began in 1963 when hundreds of men, women, and children embarked on a century-long voyage to populate a new world known as Proxima. When the travelers are nearly 50 years into their journey and approaching the point of no return, the murder of a young woman aboard their starship—the first homicide since their departure—causes them to question the true nature of their mission.
"The murder is the starting of the unraveling," Ascension's executive producer, Phil Levens, told reporters at the Television Critics Association summer press tour on Monday. Because the series is set on a ship that is self-contained and self-sustained, the people have evolved and developed differently than they would have if they'd remained on Earth. Not only is the technology different, but they think differently, too. "Their morals and the values that they're dealing with are still from the '60s," explained series star Tricia Helfer, who plays Viondra Denniger, the wife of the ship's captain.
Helfer noted that she's excited to return to Syfy, the network where she got her start in acting. "I started my career with Battlestar Galactica. I got lucky for my first job to be on something so character-driven, something that made people think. I was fascinated by the idea [of Ascension]. It's interesting to have this alternate story, a Plan B for reality."
The society on the ship is very hierarchical and uses genetic linking—arranged marriages, basically—to sustain human life (three generations will be be born during the trip to Proxima). Helfer's character Viondra started out on the lower decks but rose through the ranks, as did her husband, who's portrayed by Brian Van Holt. "They're a power couple," Helfer said. "Viondra will do anything to stay in power."
Van Holt described his character as a bit of a go-getter himself: "He's a very ambitious character who sought out a leadership role, which was presented to him after an act of heroism on the ship."
Also joining Syfy's lineup is 12 Monkeys, which is slated for a January debut and stars Nikita alums Aaron Stanford and Noah Bean, as well as Amanda Schull (Suits) and Kirk Acevedo (Fringe). But the series, which hails from former Nikita story editors Terry Matales and Travis Fickett, as well as executive producers Richard Suckle and Natalie Chaidez, is not looking to mimic the movie from which it draws its name and premise. “We were all big fans of the original film and had a deep love and respect for the material," said Matales. "We didn’t want to just redo what the movie does.”
One way the TV series will differ is that there won't be any ambiguity about whether Stanford's Cole is actually from the future or just a little bit crazy. "He is a time-traveler," said Fickett. But that doesn't rule out the latter option, of course, as Ficket also noted that "we're not saying he's not an insane person [too]." Matales went on to call the character an antihero, because "[Cole's] not out to save 7 billion people, he's out to save himself."
The creative team hopes to create a series that's more grounded than the film, yet with a bit of a thriller element, as it will toy with the consequences of time travel. "Just because you can change the future doesn't necessarily mean you should," Matales said.
12 Monkeys currently has a 13-episode order. Unfortunately, if you were hoping to catch a sneak peak at Comic-Con in a couple weeks, you're in for a bit of disappointment. The producers opted not to attend the four-day convention because it coincides with filming and they'd rather spend that time working on the show. Thanks a lot, jerks!