TheReviewGeek’s Underrated TV Gems: 12 Monkeys

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The word underrated is thrown around a lot in the entertainment field but when it comes to 12 Monkeys, that moniker is 100% earned. Released in a packed year of content back in 2015 (which saw Daredevil, The Expanse, Mr Robot and Game of Thrones dropped to name a few), Syfy’s little gem went largely under the radar. Based on the 1995 film of the same name, 12 Monkeys had a tough mountain to climb before it even hit the airwaves.

Being a remake of a highly successful film, creators and  knew they’d have a tough ask to win fans over – especially those who loved the film. The first season largely follows the plot of the film, but for some intriguing additions – including the illusive Army of the 12 Monkeys.

We’re not about to spoil the whole plotline here but suffice to say, 12 Monkeys builds upon its lore smartly across its four seasons, managing to do what few TV shows can accomplish across its run – get better and better with time. You see, the first season (at face value anyway) is decent fun but not exactly outstanding. It sticks to the basic ideas of time travel, with ideas like causality and neat little time loops to keep things interesting. All of this culminates in a twist you won’t see coming.

Much like Netflix’s Dark, 12 Monkeys actually has a lot hidden beneath the surface that you’ll only gain through repeat watches. What on earth is a Primary? Why is the colour red so significant? Alas, dear reader I’m not able to tell you but suffice to say, this is one cleverly written show.

“Initiate Splinter Sequence”

For those unaware, 12 Monkeys follows the journey of a time traveler called James Cole from 2043. The world has been ravaged by a virus of unknown origin and the majority of inhabitants have been wiped out. The small pockets of survivors have either become scavengers (called Scavs) or are doing their best to eke out a living. In the center of this maelstrom of chaos sits a woman called Katarina Jones. A brilliant scientist plagued (sorry, wrong choice of word!) by the death of her daughter, she’s been working on a solution to try and fix what’s happened to the world. And that fix? Project Splinter.

The idea here is to send James Cole back to 2013, at the point of the virus’ origin, thanks to a cryptic message from someone called Dr Cassandra Railly. Having found her scrambled voice message, the virus seems to start with a guy called Leland Frost. 

When Cole jumps back in time, he finds himself wrapped up in a conspiracy spanning far beyond the efforts of one man, as there appears to be some sort of architect in charge of the shadowy Army of the 12 Monkeys. Who is this person? Well, they seem to go by the name of “The Witness”… but that’s a mystery to be unravelled across the show which we won’t spoil here.

Don’t You, Forget About Me

The premise may not seem like much, but from the second season onwards, things get a whole lot more complicated. What’s particularly interesting here though is how the characters are written, especially over the four seasons.

The focal players all grow and evolve over time, with an equal amount of progression for the men and women. James Cole is your standard “grizzled guy saves the world” but he’s not exactly morally good either. He has blood on his hands, and some of that stems from his best friend, Ramse.

Ramse has a foul mouth on him and that’s backed up by his attitude too. He’s hard-headed and not exactly an endearing character, but he’s also a very interesting player in this, given you can’t quite figure out where his motives are.

Katarina Jones is the architect for the Project itself but don’t sleep on her character, she goes on a surprising journey across the 

Deacon is another character too that’s worth keeping an eye on. He begins by feeling like a rip-off of Negan from Walking Dead but honestly, he’ll probably end up being one of your favourites by the time the show comes to a close. The best description we can give here is that he goes on a similar journey as Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Cassie meanwhile, goes from a damsel in distress to an absolute badass, and does so in a way that feels natural and earned. She gets her ass handed to her on more than one occasion, but she uses her smarts to get out of situations.

Speaking of smarts, the one person who stands out above all others here is Jennifer. She’s intricately tied into the plot in ways that don’t always make sense. You get the feeling she’s crazy “just because”, but as the seasons progress and those layers of crazy begin to unravel, her charismatic portrayal (thanks in no part due to the excellent acting of Emily Hampshire) makes a whole lot more sense – and the show is all the stronger for it.

Ouroboros

Unlike other shows, where recommendations will come at you with quotes like “well, it doesn’t get good until season 3, hang on in there!” 12 Monkeys captures you from the first episode and never relinquishes its grip. In fact, as mentioned above the show tightens its stranglehold and begins to really explore its lore and ideas in interesting ways. There are some clever twists and neat little inclusions, and all of that builds up to an incredible 90 minute finale. 

A show can live or die by its ending (looking at you, Game of Thrones) but when it comes to 12 Monkeys, the show has one of the best endings to any TV show. The plot holes are closed, almost every question is answered, and you’ll leave feeling satisfied by the time the credits roll round. And hey, you may even end up with post-show blues too!

12 Monkeys - Season 2

Easter Eggs

If you’re still not sold on this show, 12 Monkeys has some great Easter eggs too. Fans of Impractical Jokers will have a whale of a time  given all four guys end up sporting cameos in the show! They play various roles across the series, and their mix of humour and dramatic beats actually work really well within the show’s context.

There are also a myriad of different time periods explored, including some surprising inclusions for historical figures that pop up. Not only that but from season 3 onwards, the show really goes all-out with its production design, including some surreally wonderful musical numbers (yes, they do work, surprisingly) and some sharp editing too. It all works to give 12 Monkeys this glossy, polished feel.

If you’re stuck for what to watch this weekend, or if you’re a fan of sci-fi and/or time travel shows, 12 Monkeys is a must-watch. It’s a sharply written, clever series armed with great character writing, excellent plot development and a satisfying ending.

Where Can I Watch 12 Monkeys?

  • For those in the UK, you’ll be able to watch this over at itvX
  • For those in the US, you’ll be able to pick this up from Hulu.

Do note though, that this show tends to be a difficult one to nail down and it does switch providers quite often. Your best bet here is actually to purchase the DVD boxset on Amazon (especially as ITV has adverts all the way through). 

One thing;s for sure – you should definitely add this one to your watchlist!


Have you watched 12 Monkeys as well? Do you recommend this one? Let us know in the comments!

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