Taking its core cues from the 1995 movie, the four-season (47 episodes) TV series 12 Monkeys gets extremely complicated and confusing with constant title cards that try to orient you what year it’s in, but for fans of the end of the world genre with time travel themes, it is incredibly sincere (sometimes to a fault with overly intense “acting”) and engaging, despite becoming outlandish and preposterous after awhile.
Time travelers from a post-apocalyptic future try to stop a plague from happening.
A plague sweeps across the globe in 2015, killing off most of humanity, leaving a desperate few to try to fix the past and save the future. A German scientist named Katarina (Barbara Sukowa) lives in a fortified base in 2043 with some soldiers and a few ragtag and expendable guinea pigs who are willing to throw themselves into the past, courtesy of Katarina’s makeshift time travel device. One of the time travellers is Cole (Aaron Stanford), a weary but intrepid man with a one-track mind: To find the origin of the plague. Usually sent (or “splintered,” as it is called) to years in the past where he has little clues to go on, Cole meets a future CDC doctor named Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull) who ends up believing his story (he can prove it when he shows her a paradox), and he gets splintered in and out of her life as the fateful day in 2015 comes closer. When all of his leads prove fruitless, he uncovers another one: An “army” of 12 monkeys may have something to do with the plague, which means he’ll need to integrate himself into the life of a possible “prime” target, an insane woman named Goines (Emily Hampshire, a highlight whenever she’s on screen), who seems very close to the fated events that will kill of most of humanity. With lots of back and forth time travel to years going back as far as World War II, Cole and his fellow time traveller Ramse (Kirk Acevedo) become enemies (and then later on become friends and allies again) when Ramse gets stuck in the past and becomes a figurehead for a sinister organization that will end up helping to create time travel. As the years pass, the future remains unchanged, and while Katarina is desperate to alter the course of history (mainly to save her daughter who she thinks died of the plague) there are cannibalistic scavengers and doomsday cults who want to break into her compound to ruin everything she’s worked for. Eventually, Railly becomes a time traveller herself and fights alongside Cole and Ramse, but things get even more complicated when she and Cole fall in love and set the stage of the ruination of time and space itself when they conceive a child who will be known as The Witness, a cult leader, a prophet of doom, and the harbinger of the end of all things.
Taking its core cues from the 1995 movie, the four-season (47 episodes) TV series 12 Monkeys gets extremely complicated and confusing with constant title cards that try to orient you what year it’s in, but for fans of the end of the world genre with time travel themes, it is incredibly sincere (sometimes to a fault with overly intense “acting”) and engaging, despite becoming outlandish and preposterous after awhile. The leads are well cast, and for fans of the original film, there are a few nods, including casting Madeleine Stowe in a role in the last episode of the second season, and a music cue in one episode taken directly from the film. Like all shows, though, it has some wasteful episodes that prolong the process of telling its story, and there’s only so many times that you can use the old, “this is the last jump we can make!” line until it becomes a head-slapper.
Mill Creek recently released a handsome and compact 8-disc set of the complete series of 12 Monkeys, and it’s affordably priced to own. Considering that Universal only mass-market produced the first two seasons on Blu-ray and DVD and relegated seasons 3 and 4 in expensive “on demand” disc sets, Mill Creek’s collection is the clear and obvious way to go. No special features are included.