Television Review: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeysby Michael D. Pederson

 

12 Monkeys
Syfy, Streaming on Hulu

Whenever my friends and I would compare notes on current shows that we were watching I could never find anyone else who was watching 12 Monkeys. Now that the show has finished its original run it is a perfect time to correct that. Based on the 1995 Terry Gilliam movie of the same name (itself based on a short French movie), the show ran for four seasons on the Syfy network (2015–2018).

As a fan of the Gilliam film, I was skeptical that they could pull off a faithful television adaptation. And, for the most part, they didn’t. Not, however, because they failed but because they changed the show enough that it became its own entity that stands on its own merits apart from the movie. Like the movie, the show begins with a time traveller from the future who goes back in time to stop a terrorist group (the Army of the 12 Monkeys) from releasing a plague that destroys civilization as we know it. As the first season progressed the show moved further and further away from that plot—changing characters, adding new villains, and throwing every crazy twist imaginable at the audience. By the end of the first season it had moved into completely original territory with the heroes now racing to stop a rogue group of time travellers from destroying time itself.

The ideas were crazy but well executed and the story moved at a fast pace so things never grew boring. At it’s heart, like many of the best television shows, 12 Monkeys became a show about family—a very broken, very disfunctional and, frequently, a very violent family. The main characters—James and Cassandra—were played by reliable and generically attractive actors (Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull) who effortlessly grounded the show. It was the secondary characters that made the show come alive though. Kirk Acevedo’s intense Ramse, Barbara Sukowa’s irritable Jones, Todd Stashwick’s charmingly unpredictable Deacon, and especially Emily Hampshire’s insanely original interpretation of the offbeat Jennifer make the show a must see. And the wild non-stop plot twists make this the perfect show to binge. It may even be better that way.

 

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