Smart & Gritty Time Travel: 12 Monkeys (TV Show - A)

Original Review: February 16, 2015

Syfy's "12 Monkeys" TV show - a new adaptation and/or continuation of the 1998 Terry Gilliam movie - is really good! I just finished catching up on all 5 episodes that are out so far and definitely recommend it to sci-fi fans.

While it's got a slight "budget sci-fi" feel to it, the characters are more complex than they seem at first and the story is interesting, smart, and gritty. The premise: thirty years after an engineered supervirus kills most of the world's population, a cabal of surviving scientists perfects a time machine that had been in development before the plague. A time-traveling future guy (Cole) and a modern-day virologist gal (Cassandra) team up to track down the source of the virus and destroy it before it can get started.

The feel of the show is similar to the excellent "Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles" where characters forearmed with knowledge of the post-apocalyptic future puzzle out exactly what went wrong and how to stop it. A fair concern would be that the premise implies a long string of barely connected plot developments before the virus is finally stopped in the very last episode, but that hasn't proven to be the case at all. Instead there are a number of irons in the fire - figuring out who The Army of the Twelve Monkeys is and how the virus gets started, Cassandra near-losing her mind and access to important top-level documents as she becomes convinced of the truth of what Cole is saying, Cole and future friends defending the Year 2045 lab against raiders, and Cole jumping back and forth piecing together clues and dealing with the changes to the future caused by his actions in the past.

On top of that we'll often see events presented in a time puzzle fashion a bit similar Memento, where we'll see the consequences of an unknown event and then in a later episode we'll learn what the cause of it was.

Cole, by the way, is one of those Made for TV rogueish "badass" guys who talks tough about preventing the outbreak at all costs, says he grew up rough, etc., but really has heart of - oh shit he just murdered an innocent bystander just to be on the safe side in terms of stopping the virus! Yep, got some grit.

Update: December 28, 2019

I originally rated this show "B+" back in 2015. Having gone on to watch all 4 seasons since them, I'm upgrading my rating to "A". A few small gripes aside, this show gets better and better every episode. It seems incredibly rare for each episode of the final season to be better than the one before it, but such is the case. The finale is very poignant and bittersweet. It's just perfect and I thought about it for days afterwards. Super well done. 12 Monkeys is now one of my all-time favorite shows.