I was pretty surprised that SyFy decided to create a TV series based on that very, very strange time travel movie. And we all know time travel movies are inevitably confusing and complicated, but I think this movie is one of the more strange ones. Then again, what else do you expect when you combine a somewhat more modern Brazil aesthetic with time travel?
Thankfully, the show is a lot more coherent than the movie was. At the same time, the show still taps into the inherent craziness of the movie and the nature of time travel as a whole. I enjoyed this way more than I had anticipated.
Synopsis: 12 Monkeys is a science fiction drama television series developed for television by Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett for SyFy. As stated earlier, the show is based on the 1995 Terry Gilliam movie of the same name.
James Cole (Aaron Stanford) is a man out of time. More specifically, he has been sent from 2043 to try and stop a killer virus that decimates over 93% of Earth's population. The "splintering" process is highly experimental and the woman behind the plan, Katarina Jones (Barbara Sukowa) is determined to find the right point in the timeline where James can destroy the virus before it is released. But this is no easy task as there is a mysterious group known as The Army of the Twelve Monkeys that seems to be behind the virus.
In the past, Cole finds himself repeatedly encountering CDC virologist Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull) at different points in her life, and thus she becomes one of his main pillars of support in his quest to track down the nature of the virus. But she can only do so much given Cole's erratic jumps through time and how things don't seem to happen in precisely the right order. Another figure that seems to appear frequently in his efforts is Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), daughter of the man who seems to be behind the virus but potentially involved with the Army of the Twelve Monkeys as well.
At first the mission seemed simple enough - Cole had a single target that Jones' team in the future believed to be the key figure in the virus outbreak. It takes Cole a while to narrow down where to find Leland and thus the involvement of Dr. Railly in things. In this sense, the first episode sort of felt somewhat closer to the plot of the movie, but that's not saying much. But I suppose it was enough to get fans of the movie to appreciate the show a bit more before things eventually went off the rails.
A major change between the movie and the TV series is the fact that Cole doesn't end up committed in a psych ward for the bulk of story. Here we see him jumping back and forth across time as Jones' team tries to figure out where best to send him. The process is naturally traumatic on Cole and thus each jump is a risk on its own.
Special mention as to go to Kirk Acevedo, who plays José Ramse in the series. We've seen him a lot in various genre TV shows, perhaps most notable in Fringe. It's nice to see him around, although he tends to behave like a thug no matter what side of the fence he's on. And even as a good guy, he's the sort of good guy that feels more than just a little gray, and so he often seems to end up as a traitor of some sort. It's still all good fun though and I do enjoy encountering him again and again in different shows. And yay for his continued support of science fiction entertainment!
I'm rather enamored by the character of Katarina Jones. She's quite the strong character in more ways than one and I can't help but feel that the writers have invested extra effort into giving her some really poetic lines to say throughout the series. I mean really, she's a scientist who seems invested everything into a single path towards possible salvation for humanity and she's committed to deal with whatever comes out of this plan. But later one we see that it's a bit more than just drive - it may actually be fate.
There's a lot of nuances to the show that help make things a lot of fun. But at the same time things can get confusing pretty fast, especially since you're jumping around multiple time periods. Add in the fact that stories are not told in a linear order and all the more things are pretty crazy. It makes for some fun times and some frustrating time, which is a perfect match for the tone of the original movie.
I rather enjoyed 12 Monkeys even though it wasn't quite a consistent show experience. But then the quirkiness is really part of its charm and I'm glad that this show exists. This first season gets 4 side effects of splinter time travel out of a possible 5.