TV Reviews

12 MONKEYS Review

12 Monkeys Syfy Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly, Aaron Stanford as James Cole

SyFy’s newest series, 12 MONKEYS, is inspired by the 1995 film Twelve Monkeys. Those familiar with that movie know the basic story. Almost all of the world’s human population is wiped out by a deadly virus. Desperate scientists in the future send back one man to change the past and prevent such disaster. It’s mind-bendy, twisty stuff, full of action and time travel and paradox.

Aaron Stanford (Nikita) stars in 12 MONKEYS as James Cole, the Bruce Willis role from the film. In the pilot, circa 2013, Cole meets Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull, Suits) and enlists her help with his mission. When Cole returns to Railly in 2015, scant moments have passed for him, but her life has forever changed by the task he assigns her: find Leland Frost. With a little help, she does locate the man Cole believes is responsible for the epidemic (Zeljko Ivanek, Damages, Heroes, Madam Secretary). Of course, that’s only the beginning of the story.

One thing that struck me about the film Twelve Monkeys is that it is quite difficult to try to keep track of everything that is going on and when everything is supposed to have happened, especially once the time line begins to change – or does it? 12 MONKEYS begins with this same head-spinning issue, bringing in not just two distinct time periods, but several more. However, by being given many weeks to unfold the tale, I assume it will be much easier to follow as it goes along, the series being given the gift of more than two hours to tell its story.

12 MONKEYS is ripe for such exploration. The movie is great, a self-contained film that leaves one thinking. But the universe has plenty to unspool over multiple seasons. The time traveling hero who doesn’t have all the answers, nor does his boss, the mysterious Jones (Barbara Sukowa, Hannah Arendt), meets the girl who takes a chance on him. Toss in a secret terrorist organization, the 12 MONKEYS mentioned in the title, led by a female version of the Brad Pitt part, Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire, My Awkward Sexual Adventure), and there’s the makings of an epic battle of good versus evil fought over decades, with the lines not clearly drawn.

12 MONKEYS also has a supporting cast experienced in the genre. Standford’s Nikita co-star, Noah Bean, plays Aaron Marker, a former love interest of Railly’s, while Fringe’s Kirk Acevedo is Ramses, a contemporary of Cole’s. Along with those noted above, this makes for a pretty solid, if not well-known, core cast.

SyFy has been moving into more intelligent dramas as of late. Its cheesy movies and goofy shows, like Warehouse 13, still have a place there, but the network is also attempting some higher concept stuff, such as Helix and 12 MONKEYS. It’s a good sign, to see their fare turn to something more worthy to serious fans of science fiction, as nothing really has there since Battlestar Galactica and Caprica ended, and 12 MONKEYS certainly fits that label. It’s similar in makeup to the Canadian program Continuum, which also runs on SyFy, but adds several other layers to that concept. It’s not my favorite new series of the year by a long shot, but it’s interesting and complex, which is a step above what I expected.

The pilot eats through much of the movie’s most central plot, skipping some subplot items that won’t fit in a longer-running show and not really getting to the mental institution yet. While the latter does leave enough to fill another hour or so, that means that very early on in season one, 12 MONKEYS will be leaving its source material behind and starting to forge its own path. I look forward to seeing where that’s going.

12 MONKEYS premieres this Friday, January 16th, at 9 p.m. ET on SyFy.

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