12 Reasons Syfy’s 12 Monkeys Is Their Best Show in Years

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Syfy
Syfy

*** Warning: This article contains spoilers for 12 Monkeys Season 1 ***

We’ve got some good news for you TV fans out there. If you missed 12 Monkeys the first time around, you can catch Season 1 on Hulu, Syfy.com, the Syfy app and On Demand now. That means there’s absolutely no excuse to pass on the exhilarating second season of Syfy’s best show in years. Over the past few seasons, Syfy has returned to its glory days with programming custom made for the network. Execs have admitted to dropping the ball after Battlestar Galactica, but frak me if they aren’t working hard to win us geeks back. 12 Monkeys, Dark Matter, Hunters, Killjoys, The Expanse, The Magicians, Van Helsing, Wynonna Earp… Hell, that list almost makes me forget all about Sharknado. Ah but to each their own, right?

It’s no secret that television shows live and die (mostly) based on ratings. That said, genre fans have also come to realize they can help influence those renewal decisions by passionately supporting their favorite TV shows. A series like 12 Monkeys is a rare gift, and when all the complex pieces of a television production come together this perfectly… it’s magic, man! Below are my 12 reasons why 12 Monkeys is Syfy’s best show in years. Hopefully, it will be on the air for many more seasons to come.

1) TIME TRAVEL

Did we really need that many ghost shows? Time travel allows for endless storytelling possibilities, taking the audiences on a ride like no other plot device can. Doctor Who is the perfect example of a time travel series that has reinvented itself, remaining on the air for over 50 years. I’m not saying we’ll be meeting the 12th iteration of Cole and Cassie when 2043 rolls around in real life, but there’s no reason the show can’t remain compelling for several years. Plus, how cool is that time machine? That baby, alone, is reason enough to watch this series.

2) NOT JUST ANOTHER VIRUS SHOW

The success of AMC’s The Walking Dead ushered in an era of post-apocalyptic plague programming. If you watched 12 Monkeys Season 1 and still believe there’s no greater threat than the virus, you most certainly haven’t been paying attention. Without giving too much away, The Witness has ambitions far beyond the virus which was just a speck in his overall design.

3) CAST AND DOPPELGANGERS

To say this series was perfectly cast is an understatement. Man, all these guys are so good! Not only are the actors brilliant, but we get to meet alternate versions of each of them throughout the series. If you were a fan of Fringe (or love Orphan Black), it’s safe to assume doppelgängers are a highlight for you. Well, not only did Cole (Aaron Stanford) meet his younger self causing a paradox that saved his life, but we learned that Jones met the time traveler years earlier. There are also too many versions of Jennifer (Emily Hampshire) to keep track of, which certainly keeps things fresh. Brad Pitt, who? I love that the female leads are as equally capable as the guys, and not treated as window dressing. Jones (Barbara Sukowa) is as complex a character as any on TV.

Kurt Iswarlenko/Syfy
Kurt Iswarlenko/Syfy

4) WRITING (or a Showrunner we can trust)

It seems like lately network shows are killing off their protagonists simply for “shock value.” When you have a great story arc planned out, as showrunner Terry Matalas does, there’s little need to resort to gimmicks in order to maintain fans’ attention. Then again, you can kill Cole or Cassie in one timeline and they will resurface in another. Personally, I loved hearing that the first 8 episodes of 12 Monkeys Season 2 were fully fleshed out before production started up again. We, as fans, invest our time and if the writers do their job right, we fall in love with their characters. It’s unfair to wing it, and later kill off a fan fave for a ratings boost. It helps that Matalas himself is a huge fan of time travel stories and has a long-term plan.

5) INTELLIGENT

As a rule, genre fans are generally pretty sharp folks. Since the pilot, 12 Monkeys‘ science has been believable and the exposition never dumbed down. The showrunners even drop little clues that resurface several episodes later to see if we’re paying attention. Character’s make the most logical decisions they can considering the insane circumstances. Their motivations feel real, not simply some plot device to move the story from point A to point B. Whenever I get the sense a show is talking down to me, I’m out. That’s not the case with 12 Monkeys, I feel smarter just watching it.

6) UNPREDICTABLE

Before the series premiere I remember fans of Gilliam’s movie saying, “once they stop the virus the show is over.” Think you know where the second season is headed? Well having already seen the first half, I guarantee you could not be more wrong. There are many elements that make 12 Monkeys ridiculously entertaining, but its unpredictable nature is probably my favorite. We clever genre fans attempt to connect the dots and put all the puzzle pieces together, right? Luckily for us, it’s like 12 Monkeys‘ biggest mysteries reside in Jennifer Goines’ twisted mind.

7) MIND-BLOWING REVEALS

There were several moments in the first season that were mind blowing. As I mentioned earlier, young Jones meeting Cole and suggesting a paradox as a cure. Ramse hopping in the time machine and traveling back to 1987, a time period Leland Goines mentioned in the pilot. Did you ever imagine Cole’s BFF was guiding the Army of the 12 Monkeys all along? How about Cassie being shot attempting to kill Ramse, then being saved by splintering to Jones in 2043? The twists and turns were (and continue to be in Season 2) phenomenal and intricately plotted out. Yeah, that makes for great television.

8) SENSE OF WONDER AND HOPE

Okay, so the show’s not exactly rainbows or unicorns, but there’s always a sense of hope running throughout. After all, what’s the point of all the leapfrogging through time if mankind were not worth saving? The best science fiction always gives us a peek at the human condition and our sense of wonder about our place in the universe. It can’t all be gloom and doom. We need to know that we will survive as a species. That we’ll be alright in the end. With the current death trend on TV and morbid movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in theaters, it’s important that 12 Monkeys remains optimistic.

9) VISUAL EFFECTS

We may not understand exactly what the red forest is, but each trippy visit is realized in a completely unique way. The colors, the sounds, the editing and hidden messages. That old house being ripped apart, only to rebuild itself. The Witness! There is nothing quite like the visuals of 12 Monkeys on television. Keep an eye out, because several key moments in Season 2 transcend any of the eye candy we’ve seen up to this point. These are feature film visual effects, but on a TV budget. What the VFX guys have accomplished on this series is breathtaking.

Syfy
Syfy

10) TONE AND PACING

Ron Moore’s Helix was the first of the new batch of Syfy shows to really nail a darker (more serious) tone and thrill-ride pacing. 12 Monkeys took that a step further, as every episode in the first season felt like its own mini-movie. The tone is dark, but looking back at the first season I’m still shocked at how quickly the writers burned through story. That’s not a complaint, mind you, it is a massive compliment. Today’s audiences have too many options, you’ve got to grab their attention quickly and keep them coming back each week. Matalas and his team came up with the perfect formula early on, and they continue to use it in Season 2. Since Galactica ended, Syfy’s been looking for its replacement. Look no further guys, you’ve already got it… Green light 12 Monkeys Season 3!

11) SOUNDSCAPES

Unfortunately, the last thing the casual viewer pays attention to is the music. We’re so dazzled by the visuals, you know? Besides, if done well, the little chimes and ticking sounds should not call attention to themselves. Trevor Rabin and Paul Linford subtly created a “time traveling” atmosphere that fits this series like a glove. It’s part sci-fi, part crime drama with a healthy dose of horror. Yes, I was a musician in another life, so I appreciate movie/tv music quite a bit. The instant that opening title sequence hits, we’re back in the world of 12 Monkeys. Turn off the sound and read the subtitles. You will get a better idea what the music brings to a show.

12) CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED

The show has its fans, but it is always a plus when TV critics can be counted among them. It makes me smile when I see articles at EW, IGN, Variety and other outlets praising 12 Monkeys. I’ll probably get in hot water with Terry Gilliam fans for this, but while the movie (also critically acclaimed) was great, the television series is simply better. Personally, I found the film to be far too nonsensical and ultimately a tad anticlimactic. Mind you, I’m not a big fan of the current reboot/remake trend. That said, this series quickly set itself apart by establishing its villains, their agenda and proved that time is malleable. If time were static, as in the film, how do you sustain a TV series over several years? Bruce Willis’ other flick Looper, is probably a better jumping off point for a time travel series. Either way, the critics “got it” and any doubt the series would not live up to the film disappeared in time.

 

There you have it folks, my 12 reasons why Syfy’s 12 Monkeys is their best show in years. If you’re already watching, I’ll see you on Twitter for the live-tweets. If not, I hope I’ve made you curious enough to check out this very special show. Trust me, I realize there’s a ton of great television out there, but 12 Monkeys is at the very top of my list.

Have anything to add? Sound off in comment section below. In the meantime, check out the opening of Season 2 right now.

12 Monkeys Season 2 premieres Monday, April 18th at 9 p.m ET on Syfy and Showcase. As I mentioned at the top, Season 1 is available on Hulu, Syfy.com, the Syfy app and On Demand.

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