January 24, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “12 Monkeys”


12 MONKEYS:  Friday 9PM on Syfy

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on 12 MONKEYS:  28 years from now, post-apocalyptic Earth has been devastated by a plague that’s killed 7 billion people.  On the plus side, scientists have begun to figure out how to travel in time (despite some glitches).  A group of them led by Jones (Barbara Sukowa) send Cole (Aaron Stanford) back to our present to stop the plague before it can begin.  The one piece of evidence the future survivors have is a recording made in our era by virologist Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), which appears to blame the outbreak on pharmaceutical tycoon Leland Goines, but since Cole killed him in the pilot, and it had no effect, the search for the cause must continue.  It centers on the menacing and obscure Army of the 12 Monkeys.

Episode 2:  The second hour of 12 Monkeys, written by showrunner/Executive Producer Natalie Chaidez and directed by David Grossman, got down to the business of making clear how this will operate as a continuing series, rather than the closed-end story of Terry Gilliam’s 1995 film.  We were introduced to Leland Goines’s daughter Jennifer (Emily Hampshire), who’s the TV series take on the Brad Pitt character from the movie, an institutionalized madwoman (her asylum is named after the screenwriters of the film).  We also met a mysterious and threatening figure played by Tom Noonan, who’s linked to the 12 Monkeys, but who may very well turn out to be a time traveler himself, since he has knowledge about Cole and Railly that shouldn’t be possible for someone in 2015.  At least in the short term, it appears that he’ll be a central figure in the mystery.

There’s little if any sign that the TV 12 Monkeys will be any more than a routine low-budget cable thriller with a time-travel twist.  None of the cast is more than a shadow of his or her big-screen counterpart, and the characters haven’t been adjusted in any interesting ways to accommodate the new actors.  There’s no evident chemistry between Stanford and Schull, and Stanford in particular provides merely surface-level desperation to his role.  The episodes lack any distinctive humor (a time-travel glitch that had Cole briefly in early 21st-century North Korea ended before it could turn into The Interview) or point of view, and certainly no one involved has anything like Terry Gilliam’s extraordinary visual style.

12 Monkeys is the second project (after Ascension) to appear in Syfy’s purported effort to remake itself as more than the network of Sharknado movies, but its creative light is dim, and premiere ratings were only so-so.  There are several more dramas on the way, and perhaps one of them will provide the jump start the network desperately needs.  If not, the creative team may need to go back in time itself, to the days of Battlestar Galactica.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  No Need To Be Back in 1995 to Stream the Movie


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."