Based on the hit film of the same name, 12 Monkeys does a pretty good job of delivering a satisfying show full of twists and engaging characters. The rules around time travel do feel a bit disjointed at times and there are a few occasions where its used a little too conveniently to save characters but if you go in expecting a fun sci-fi inspired show with plenty of intrigue, mystery and engaging characters, you’ll have a blast across the 13 episodes on offer here.
The story jumps between two separate periods through history after a decent pilot episode establishes what’s happening and continues to do so throughout the show. Sometime in 2017, a virus is unleashed on the world that kills 99% of the population with the only ones left, a small group of people that are immune to the disease. Fast forward to 2043 and the world is a wasteland, decimated by the virus. After years of labour and getting a time machine to work, James Cole (Aaron Stanford) is sent back through time to 2015, 2 years before the virus is unleashed, to kill the man responsible for unleashing it and save the future. Of course, things are never that simple and it soon become more complicated.
Time travel is never an easy thing to get right in any genre with so many variables and rules that need to be established quickly and without contradicting themselves and in this respect, 12 Monkeys does fall short. Its certainly not for the want of trying though and the self-realisation shown here is admirable as the writers try and explain some of the show’s bigger plot holes and instances of characters in peril that are saved by travelling through time. Its not a deal breaker and the show’s premise is intriguing enough to keep you watching. The way the show jumps between 2043 and 2015 is an interesting technique and one for the most part that works by having multiple cliffhangers across the season with both time lines. It does become a bit sporadic and over the top when more than two timelines are introduced with flashbacks but it just about holds on during these episodes. Thankfully, these are few and far between.
I mentioned earlier about the characters and its here that 12 Monkeys comes into its own. Cole does feel a little too cliche at times but he feels like a guy you want to root for. Dr Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull) and José Ramse (Kirk Acevedo) elevate the show with decent, intelligent acting and in Ramse’s case, a very engaging, complicated character with clear motivations. In contrast is Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), a crazy woman who knows more than she lets on but her over the top mannerisms and gibberish fused with pockets of maniacal laughing actually cheapens the show a bit. Whilst I can appreciate the need to show this character out of her mind, it feels unnatural and forced to the point of detracting from the moments that should be tense. Toward the latter half of the season this is toned down though but for the first half, it does feel over the top.
Despite that, 12 Monkeys is a surprisingly good series. Its certainly not as good as the original film its based on, but its been made intelligently with a decent pace throughout. The episodes flow effortlessly into the next and as it draws near the conclusion of the season, the writers do a good job of tying up some loose ends but its obvious not everything will be explained. The cliffhanger ending in the finale is a little irritating but its enough to hook me to watch the next season – I feel compelled to do so and I guess this is a win from the show’s perspective. It ties some of the themes together and is one of the best uses of the two time periods in the season with a tense showdown in both years. Its great stuff and handled really well, even if the bigger questions of the show remaining unanswered detracts a little from the satisfaction.
12 Monkeys is one of those shows that starts slowly and gets better as the season goes on and you become more invested in the characters. There’s certainly a lot to like here, with a good mystery woven throughout and decent characters to keep it flowing. The time travel isn’t always logical and there are times where its a little too conveniently used but it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment. The cliffhanger ending won’t be for everyone and the show feels like it could drag the mystery out for a while before any meaningful answers are given. Despite all this, 12 Monkeys is a surprising hit and one I’d certainly recommend if you can look past a few of the show’s problems.