Friday, March 6, 2015

TV Review: 12 Monkeys

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars (after 7 episodes)

Bottom Line: So far it has delivered a decent science fiction series that does not resort to simple resolutions to the moral dilemmas it presents.

12 Monkeys is Syfy’s latest new entry and it is a reimaging of Terry Gilliam’s feature film of the same name that starred Bruce Willis and Brad Pit.  Aaron Stanford (X2, X-Men: Last Stand) steps into the Bruce Willis role of James Cole as the man from the future sent back in time to our present to stop the outbreak of a virus that will wipe out the majority of the human race.  Now let’s address the elephant in the room right up front on this show.  There were many naysayers out there that felt the movie was not a good fit for an adaptation to an ongoing television series and that any attempt would denigrate the original film.  I recall seeing the movie when it first came out, and even though it is now considered a classic and I love the works of Terry Gilliam, this movie never quite registered with me like it did for others.  Perhaps I need to go back and revisit it, but I decided not to before watching the series so as not to bias my opinion going in.  And so far, the series is doing quite a good job with its premise and it's delivering a first rate science fiction show that deserves some attention.  Time travel tales can always be tricky, because I find that writers typically have a hard time adhering to any sort of consistent rules as they often force the time travel "logic" to fit their story instead of building around scientific principles.  But 12 Monkeys has done a good job with that so far and it has actually been a strength for the show.  They have delved into the consequences and moral quandaries involved with time travel and not just resorted to simple resolutions.  Also, I find the lead character quite interesting for his own moral ambiguous nature.  His mission is to go back and change the past in order to avert the catastrophe to come and he has shown a willingness to do whatever it takes to make that happen.  The lead scientist from the future who started this project (Katarina Jones played by Barbar Sukowa) has her own questionable character traits and those play well next to Cole.  And then we have Cole’s main contact in the present (Dr. Cassandra Railly played by Amanda Schull) who provides some moral balance but has also come to realize that some hard decisions will need to be made to save the future.  All of this presents us with the challenging type of stories that are currently helping shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones dominate the ratings.  And while I wouldn’t put 12 Monkeys quite in the same class as those two, it has the potential to get there.  The biggest question, though, is how long can they sustain this story?  To me, it has not felt padded out in its first season (with seven episodes aired and six more to go), and I could see where it could easily continue for at least another couple of seasons (in the same episode range).  But I have a hard time seeing how they could carry it beyond that without diluting the premise too much (I did say the same thing about Lost in its first season, though, and was proven wrong about that one).  That all may be a moot point, though, seeing as 12 Monkeys is currently struggling in the ratings (it has barely registered the last few weeks with only a 0.2 rating in the 18-49 demo based on the overnights).  It does fit in well with Syfy’s alleged return to science fiction, though, and it has been getting good reviews, so maybe they will give it the chance to build up an audience.  I certainly hope so, because this is one that deserves to stick around for at least a few more seasons and science fiction fans should be giving it a look.

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