’12 Monkeys’ Pilot Recap: “That Doesn’t Make Any Sense”

There has been no shortage of new TV shows adapted from old movies over the past couple years. For the latest attempt, Syfy revives Terry Gilliam’s mind-bending time travel thriller ’12 Monkeys’. Based on the pilot episode, I kind of wish that I could go back in time and stop this from happening.

Gilliam’s film came out in 1995. Admittedly, it may have been a while since you’ve seen it last. Nevertheless, you probably remember the basic premise: In a post-apocalyptic dystopia a few decades in the future, most of the human race has been wiped out by a deadly plague. Surviving scientists develop a means of time travel called “splintering” and send a man named Cole (formerly Bruce Willis, now Aaron Stanford from ‘Nikita’) back to the current day to collect information about the virus’ origins. He meets a doctor named Cassy Railly (Amanda Schull from ‘Suits’ subbing for Madeleine Stowe) who initially thinks he’s a crackpot but soon comes to believe his story and wants to help him, not just to learn about the plague but actually stop it from happening.

Yeah, so, the TV show follows those story beats pretty closely with only minor variances. Zeljko Ivanek, continuing his bid to appear in every TV series on the air, turns up as the evil pharmaceutical CEO that Cole believes is responsible for the virus (and who drops Cole a big hint about something called the “Army of the 12 Monkeys”). However, Cole killing him fails to change the future, which suggests that someone else is behind it. Later, we’ll learn that his character had a daughter, who’s currently locked up in a psych ward where she obsessively draws pictures of monkeys on the walls. I guess she’s supposed to be a twist on Brad Pitt’s character from the movie.

In short, the new ’12 Monkeys’ regurgitates the plot of the movie, but without any of the suspense (Cole’s sanity or the truth of his story are never in question here), good acting performances, or any of the fun Terry Gilliam weirdness. It feels like somebody watched the movie and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could remake this with no trace of personality whatsoever?” The series looks cheap and ugly, its direction is flat and listless, the actors are nondescript (I like Schull on ‘Suits’, but I just don’t buy her character here), and the story plods along in the most mundane ways possible.

The logic behind its conception of time travel is also really dopey. In one embarrassingly stupid scene, Cole demonstrates the disastrous consequences of a time paradox when he allows a watch that he brought back from the future to touch its former self from the present day, which triggers a big explosion because‚Ķ well, there’s absolutely no reason anything like that should ever happen. The writers of this show apparently got all their ideas about “science” from watching Jean-Claude Van Damme’s ‘TimeCop’, which ends with a pretty similar scene.

Syfy aired the pilot episode on Friday. Comcast already has the second episode available early via On-Demand, though I haven’t watched that one yet. I suppose it’s possible that the show could get better once it runs out of scenes from the movie to recycle and is forced to come up with new ideas of its own, but I’m not sure that I’m interested enough to give it that chance.


  1. lameness

    First, silly question after watching the pilot: why would she have to stitch him up two years later from the bullet he took? Wouldn’t they have given him medical attention when he was back in the future? He was definitely back in the future between these two scenes. Hmm.

    It actually was a good movie IMO (surprisingly, since most time-travel-oriented, plothole-producing movies are terrible.) I was interested to watch the show even knowing it would likely be unwatchable, but you’re right – it’s like watching the movie except with all the good parts taken out. I laughed at your “no personality whatsoever” remark – I made that same remark today, saying the pilot’s like watching a terrible acting class trying to re-enact the movie, and doing it without much success. Also the show is visually ugly. Blech.

    It’s just too weird to watch this guy say Bruce Willis’s lines. …And to see the crazy ‘clock sequence’ from the beginning of the movie without the neat music from the movie. #lameness

    And yeah, a lot of suspense in the movie came from the fact that the lady (and us) had no reason to believe he wasn’t just crazy. Now oh look, I scratch your watch and the room explodes! I’m obviously real. Lol…

  2. I watched the pilot episode and the rest of the season so far and I absolutely love the show. I don’t care what the other critics say about this show made for syfy. I usually find that shows or movies that critics say it’s terrible or it’s a bomb I find it entertaining and love. 12 Monkeys has kept to it’s original movie plot with a little extras to give it a boost and will buy it when it becomes available on bluray.

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