On The Sixth Anniversary Of The Series Debut Of 12 Monkeys, The Show Remains Unmatched
On this website, we love stories, especially those with sci-fi and fantasy flavor. Of course, we value original stories because they are difficult to pull off and face the challenge of finding an audience that will allow them to live on past their debuts. Yet, some stories never quite get the due they deserve. On this, the sixth anniversary of the series debut of 12 Monkeys, the little time-travel show that could is still waiting for its moment. Loosely based on the plot of the Terry Gilliam film of the same name, 12 Monkeys represents the high-water mark in the era of prestige TV.
The show’s budget figures aren’t officially known. But I’d bet that an episode or two of Game of Thrones‘ final season or The Mandalorian had a larger budget than an entire season of 12 Monkeys. Yet, even with those financial restraints, the storytellers delivered something amazing. Over the past year, as the world itself reels from a pandemic, this story about a plague, love, and the importance of right now became a kind of emotional comfort food for old and new fans alike.
The series debut of 12 Monkeys started with a scenario that rang familiar to fans of the film. James Cole, played by Aaron Stanford, links up with Dr. Railly, played by Amanda Schull, regarding a message she left in the past received by folks in the future. Yet, from there, the series showcases how different it is from the film. For example, in order to prove who he is, Cole shows Dr. Railly that events of the past can indeed “change” the future.
If you’ve not yet watched 12 Monkeys, the sixth anniversary of the series debut is a perfect time to start.
A Time-Travel Show That’s All About Time, But Not in the Way You Think
Image via SyFy
Perhaps the most impressive thing about 12 Monkeys is that after the end of the first season they are able to significantly up the stakes. One would think that a plague that kills the vast majority of the world’s population would be decimation enough. However, by season 2, the show opens up an entirely new mythology that shifts the focus from the plague to time itself. We’re not going to get into spoilers—if you want those, check out my write-up of the series finale—but we can talk about themes in the show without ruining the delightful surprises along the way.
Taking a page from genre titans (no pun intended) like Star Wars and Star Trek, the major conflict in the series is one of philosophy. The villains stated goal is uniquely relatable, especially in a year with so much time and so many people lost to us. The question the series asks is: What makes life worth living? Would you prefer living in a “perfect” moment forever or experiencing a finite existence? On the surface, the former seems like a no-brainer. Yet, does joy or happiness exist without their counterbalances. Put another way, how important are endings to the experiences we have in life?
Like all good villains, the Army of the 12 Monkeys don’t think they are the baddies. Rather, they think they are giving a gift to entire universe, despite the evidence that their plan won’t really deliver that. While the series wraps up every character story and thread very nicely, the end is still ambiguous enough that fans can talk this idea through for the rest of, well, time.
The 12 Monkeys Series Is Perfect From Debut to Finale
Image via SyFy
Perfection is a tough thing to achieve, and in all honesty true “perfection” is unattainable. However, this series gets as close to it as any TV show possibly could. Series co-creator and showrunner Terry Matalas is on record saying that he believes the first season is the weakest one. Watching the series (and even more so rewatching it) shows on this even his judgment might be suspect. This is a tightly written series where nothing means “nothing.” A number of times throughout the run of the show, characters will toss out seemingly throwaway lines only for fans to realize in retrospect that they gave away everything.
The show did have an advantage. When the 12 Monkeys series debut landed on SyFy six years ago, they had no idea how long it would last. Notorious for pulling the plug on promising series, SyFy at least gave Matalas and company two full seasons to bring the story to a close. The result is a no-filler, no fluff 20-odd hours of TV that only gets better the more you watch it.
Over the years, the show slowly began to find its audience. Those who do make their way through the series are often dumbstruck at how much they enjoy it. Honestly, I’ve never seen anyone who saw it the whole through have anything but praise for the story they told. A post-apocalyptic story may seem like a downer, but 12 Monkeys is filled with hope. An inciting incident with a body count in the billions might seem like a show that doesn’t value life. Yet, 12 Monkeys consistently underscores the importance of saving people, both en masse and individually.
If you’ve not seen 12 Monkeys, the sixth anniversary of the series debut is a perfect excuse to start.
12 Monkeys is currently streaming on Hulu or you can pick up the full series on Blu Ray.
What do you think? Have you seen 12 Monkeys? Share your thoughts, reactions, and reviews in the comments below! (Though, beware spoilers.)
Featured image by Ben Mark Holzbert via Syfy
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.