This is a spoiler free impression based upon the entire first season of 12 Monkeys
There are a lot of incredible television shows on the air currently. Not only that, but there’s an incredible amount of shows period—more so than we have ever seen before. Many coin this era as the time of “Peak Television”.
Think about it…there are dozens of shows on every media platform and broadcaster that you can think of. How do you know where to dedicate your time? Which shows are worth it? Which aren’t? Which have completely slipped past your personal radar? That’s where you have to look to the Internet to gather information on what show will land on your television screen next. That’s where people like me come in.
Like anyone else, I’m human. I try to watch as much as physically possible in my schedule, but I can’t do it all. Enter Syfy’s show: 12 Monkeys. I had heard great things about the show—a reboot of the classic film from 1995—that originally aired back in 2015. I never had a chance to sit down and watch it. Well, I decided to change that. I have now seen the entire first season, and it’s my pleasure to help inform your next binge show decision.
12 Monkeys follows the story of James Cole, played by Aaron Stanford (Nikita), who is a survivor from a post-apocalyptic wasteland that is the product of a deadly virus released into the world in 2017. In an attempt to stop the virus from ever wiping out the world in the first place, Cole is sent back in time, via Project Splinter, to find where it all began and halt it in it’s tracks.
Your first thought may be one of hesitancy, as you may have preconceived notions about what to expect. You may be thinking it’ll be something cheap, corny, and comically over the top. Well I’m glad to report that SyFy has seemingly followed suit with USA Networks & Mr. Robot, and are really putting the time and effort into their shows to make them true competitors in such a crowded market. 12 Monkeys does have a surprising air of quality to it. Cinematically it looks good, the complex continuity is wrangled and maintained admirably, and the actors give their all to the performances.
As mentioned, the performances from the cast are superb across the board. Amanda Schull (Suits, Pretty Little Liars) is great as co-lead Dr. Cassandra Railly. She makes me wonder why I haven’t seen more of her in other projects, as she really stands out. Kirk Acevedo (Fringe, Prime Suspect) – who I personally haven’t seen on TV since Fringe —plays a main supporting character of Ramses, a childhood friend of Cole’s. There are also a ton of Nikita alums that show up to join Aaron Stanford, including Noah Bean as Aaron Marker. There really isn’t a weak link among the cast, although one could argue that Barbara Sukowa’s character can be a little too on the nose at times as Katarina Jones, their German scientist.
It’s important to note that if you don’t care for heavy sci-fi stories, or extremely complex continuity and serialization, you might want to turn back now (also you probably should just avoid the SyFy channel). 12 Monkeys is as heavy and complex as a sci-fi story can get, and it really shines because of it. It never gets too bogged down in the intricate workings of its world, and more importantly, doesn’t continually stumble over its own time travel rules.
The beating heart of the show is its intricate plot that moves a mile a minute, turning and twisting every episode. Once the show hooks you, you’re in for a ride. It gleefully plays with your expectations, and tries—often successfully—to manipulate them against you.
Another strong aspect of the show’s storytelling is its flawed characters, and the focus on their choices. Do you do something at the cost of others for the ones you love? Is that wrong? It’s these questionable actions and paths that the characters choose that become spotlighted through the narrative, and their exploration of a character’s motivation to follow through on their sometimes harrowing choices. A similar thread stitches together the narrative of another great show, CW’s The 100.
Despite all of my praises, the show does have some faults. Some character motives and choices happen very suddenly, to the point that their drastic decisions may seem questionable. Eventually their motives are fully fleshed out, but some of it seemed to be the writers retroactively smoothing out rough edges. Also, Emily Hampshire’s character of Jennifer can become confusing and hard to follow, even though the performance is there. A bigger character issue in the show is when they seem to completely forget about Romina D’Ugo’s character of Max shortly after she’s introduced, and a lack of focus on that character makes her minute involvement down the line extremely perplexing. On the petty side of things, the show has an obscene amount of black screen transitions letting you know the year, which probably could have been cut down a little.
Personally, I think that 12 Monkeys cuts through the clutter of “peak TV” by embracing the essence of science fiction and going as far with it as they possibly can. What’s more than that, is how far the show manages to dive into its own complexity, without sacrificing compelling characters or leaning into campiness. Given how the first season ended, it doesn’t look like they are slowing down anytime soon.
Worth a watch? → A solid yes, given you enjoy Sci-Fi
Other Suggested Shows → The 100, Fringe, Nikita
12 Monkeys Season 1 & 2 are streaming now on Hulu, with Season 3 available soon, and the 4th and final season airing in 2018