12 Monkeys Series Premiere Review

Right up front, I want to say that I’ve never seen the original film version of 12 Monkeys. It’s one of those films I’ve always meant to get around to, especially in the lead-up to this new series, it’s just hasn’t happened yet. Eventually, I’ll check the movie out, but for now, I felt it was worth letting the series premiere of SyFy’s 12 Monkeys stand on its own. And wow if it wasn’t one heck of a strong debut.

So frequently, pilots fall victim to long, drawn-out bouts of exposition, an occurrence that’s twice as likely for a complex science fiction series. Fortunately, 12 Monkeys dodges a lot of this by jumping straight into the action. A couple of brief introductory scenes for our main characters out of the way and we’re dropped right in the thick of things, with Cole taking Cassandra hostage years two soon and quickly establishing himself as a time traveler.

From there, we jump forward to 2015 and the pace stays brisk. The show does a remarkable job of keeping our heroes on the move, all while explaining the rules governing time travel and revealing more info about the plague that wiped out humanity. It’s impressive how all of this info is related in easily-digested chunks, and while the rules might be a bit shaky at the moment, it’s simple to keep up with.

So the main narrative is set up effectively and quickly over the course of this pilot, but none of that would matter if the characters weren’t interesting. This is where the pilot falters a little bit, as the plot gets in the way of characterization. In fact, we only get glimpses of the 2043 characters at the hour’s end, leaving a big question mark on Cole’s compatriots. Further, main cast members like Cassandra and Aaron don’t get much to do other than react to what Cole is doing.

Of course, having already mentioned him so much, it’s no surprise that the character the pilot does flesh out is chrononaut James Cole. And, though the rest of the cast may need some time to develop, there’s no faulting what we get from Cole in this premiere. He’s a broken, desperate man willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to save the human race. As a result of the life he’s lived, though, he’s painfully out of place in 2015, scarfing down cheeseburgers like a rabid animal and unable to properly socialize at a party. It’s a well-written character with room for a lot of depth, brought to life well by actor Aaron Stanford. If nothing else, he makes this a show worth following, though I’m excited to see what the other characters are like in future episodes.

What did you think of the 12 Monkeys series premiere? Let me know in the comments!