SyFy’s 12 Monkeys

Emily Hampshire as Jennifer in SyFy's 12 Monkeys
12 Monkeys (Photo: SyFy)

…no waiting.

Syfy took Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film of the same name – you know, the one that starred a young Brad Pitt and the ‘Return of Bruno’ singer who crossed over to acting – and made a TV series out of it.

Wait, is this a co-production with CBC? It feels that way. Let me go check……… Huh, not even close. Okay, so Atlas Entertainment made a TV version of a pretty dang good movie they also produced back in the day, and Syfy is just distributing.

Wait, is that Kevin Rankin? No, just a similar face and scruffiness. And the female lead just looks like a young Nicole Kidman; they didn’t actually invent time travel for this series and scoop her up and perfect her non-English accent to make the TV version of 12 Monkeys.

OR DID THEY?!

They did not. And the pilot, while wandering towards breathy delivery of Important Moments, stays nicely away from too-much-ness like that, and from smirking at its own cleverness. Gawd, if a show like this was smug I might delete the channel from my cable package. But I digress. As did, sort of, 12 Monkeys.

This was a perfectly fine pilot for a series that could go any number of directions. As plenty of potential viewers weren’t old enough to see the movie when it came out1 I get that 12 Monkeys had to move slow, establish the world, the rules, the players, their motivations all within an hour.2 The problem with the result is it doesn’t quite have its own stamp yet; it was more of a retelling of the film’s concept.

The plot, if you didn’t know: virus wipes out most of mankind, survivors send someone back in time with a handful of slivers of clues to figure out where it started and stop it from happening. That’s still the core of this 12 Monkeys – and I’ll note that they kept one key part of the film intact, much to their credit. The inexact science of sending someone back in time was a great part of the movie and it opens up basically infinite possibilities for storylines and settings on TV.

What’s different this go round? There will have to be more false leads, otherwise it’ll spin its wheels or be over too soon. Zeljko Ivanek fits that role in the pilot, and if you bring in actors like him to flesh out the pathways, I’ll be happy. Elsewhere, Brad Pitt’s character from the movie, the not-all-there leader of the titular group, is now a woman with a really creepy smile. We only get to see her at the very end of the episode, so the same caveats hold: do something of interest with her; earn your twists and moments; don’t have her just giggle insanely. There are also hints of broader complications, if not a downright conspiracy of sorts, in determining the virus’ origin. Again, this could turn out well or just turn everyone around.

We’ll check back in on 12 Monkeys after a few episodes. Meanwhile, if you want a safe bet for a time-travelling/save-the-world show that had its entanglements nicely laid together, check out Continuum, streaming on Netflix.

  1. And given that the movie didn’t hold in the consciousness as much as it should have – seriously, name three better accessible sci-fi movies from the last 20 years. You can think of a couple, but there’s no reason for Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys to not be on that list.  
  2. Also – what ever happened to the 1.5 hour pilot? Is that just me asking. Yes.  

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About Aaron Mucciolo 206 Articles
He does things. That's all we can say at this time. E-mail: mooch@whatelseison.tv