TV - 12 Monkeys Season 1, Episode 1

12 Monkeys

Steve Taylor-Bryant drew the short straw and was forced to review a show he didn’t want to like...

"You look like the women we used to see in old magazines, ya know, clean"

Let’s start with some honesty. I flip-flop when it comes to remakes/reboots/spin-off’s. A new Indiana Jones starring Chris Pratt? Oh yes please thank you very much. Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys being touched at all? Are you all insane? What is wrong with Hollywood? You are all going on my list.

However, we are nothing but professional here at /Garbage-File and, when no one alive or dead came forward to review Syfy’s new show, it was left to me to try and be fair to a show based on my favourite science fiction film of all time.

With some narration, we learn the story that humanity was wiped out by a plague and only a few people remain and are now using crude time travel systems to go back in time and investigate the cause and try to change reality. One of these men is a prisoner, James Cole (Aaron Stanford – Tadpole/X-Men), who is given the mission to leave his cell and travel back to kill Leland Frost, who no one has ever heard of. After convincing Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull – J. Edgar/Suits) that he is real by first kidnapping her, then disappearing right in front of her eyes with a gunshot wound, then meeting her two years later with the same wound, Cole enlists Railly to help him track down Frost. Frost though isn’t a person it is the security name for Leland Goines (Zeljko Ivanek – Heroes/Argo) who is financing genetic engineering. Cole and Railly manage to get themselves captured by Goines and he explains to Cole that they met once in 1987 but Cole hasn’t done that yet. He also explains that Cole was hunting The Army of the 12 Monkeys. Cole causes a paradox with two wristwatches and evades Goines’ men before eventually murdering Goines. This doesn’t work though, as Cole is still alive. Railly goes on the run and Cole returns to his time to explain to Katrina Jones, (Barbara Sukowa – Johnny Mnemonic/Europa) who is in charge of the future resistance, all about the 12 Monkeys and why his mission failed. Back in 2015, a lawyer is in a room with Goines' surviving child explaining that he left a vast fortune. The room is in a psychiatric hospital and the child is Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire – Snow Cake/Cosmopolis), a patient drawing an angry monkey on a wall with coal.

Well played Syfy, well played indeed. You have created a show that holds only the essence of the film and allows a bigger cast and story to play out. I really wanted to hate this show but have found myself enjoying it for the same reasons I enjoyed the film; the casting. Bruce Willis brought his hardass best to the role of Cole in the movie and that was always going to be tough to capture on the small screen so the show didn’t try. They cast Aaron Stanford, a fantastic young talent in his own right, to bring a different physical look and a curious intensity that was different to Willis, and this makes the viewer commit to a new Cole and allow themselves to explore other parts of the episode without constantly making comparisons.

Schull as Railly is a great foil for Stanford and Ivanek is watchable in everything and anything so the storyline worked because of that, allowing the not great CGI to take a back seat. In the future world run by Sukowa there is none of Gilliam’s weird and wonderful sets. It is a wrecked warehouse building, a normal looking cell, and whilst, yes, there is a time machine and a chair, it is not overtly powerful as a vision tool. The old fashioned boards and clippings from papers and magazines and the dark lighting is far more powerful and allows for enjoyment without comparison again. The one part I was most fearful of seeing though was that of Jeffrey Goines. Brad Pitt’s powerful performance was such that he made that part what it was. No one in the history of actors was ever going to be able to pull off Jeffrey Goines so, again, the showmakers didn’t try and cast a female instead who, on first viewing, seems to have exactly the right mannerisms.

This was a stonking good pilot and a great lesson in remaking something without ruining the original but, instead, doffing a cap to it and then doing your own thing. I wanted to hate the show, I really did, and I wanted to write very long and bordering on abusive letters to Syfy for ruining something so iconic.

If you need me I’m over here eating my humble pie.

Image - SyFy.