'12 Monkeys' Series Premiere Review: SyFy Has a New Champion

[This is a review of the series premiere of 12 Monkeys. There will be SPOILERS.]


Since the Ronald D. Moore's acclaimed re-imagining of Battlestar Galatica ended back in 2009, the SyFy network has been in a constant state of identity crisis. Fans of the science fiction genre were craving more shows like BSG, but would the network take the easy way out by focusing on reality TV series like Ghost Hunters, or would this niche cable channel dare to go where no channel had gone before?

12 Monkeys, alongside other new series like Dominion, Helix and Defiance, proves that SyFy is committed to journeying down avenues other networks might not dare tread. Like Moore's new take on BSG, 12 Monkeys takes a different approach to the iconic cult favorite directed by Terry Gilliam in 1995. The essence of the nearly 20-year-old film is still there, but creators and Terra Nova alums Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett are not beholden to it. Basically, these two mad geniuses can do what they want.

The freedom that SyFy has blessed Matalas and Fickett with has allowed them to create an exciting sci-fi tapestry filled to the brim with time travel, paradoxes and post-apocalyptic futures for us to explore. What more could a geek want, right? Sure, those tropes alone won't succeed without a strong enough story and cast to hold them up. Fortunately, the entire team behind this show has excelled on all fronts, starting with its small but diverse ensemble.

Amanda Schull (Pretty Little Liars) plays our heroine Dr. Cassandra Railly, who is a talented, ahead-of-her-time scientist who knows too much for her own good. The gorgeous Hawaii-born actress is a force to be reckoned with, even when she's playing the "innocent card" in tough situations. In many ways, her character falls into that usual category of a somewhat ordinary person thrown into an unimaginable circumstance, but it's her onscreen chemistry with co-lead Aaron Stanford (X-Men 2), that elevates her performance.

Yes, for fans of Bryan Singer's X-Men franchise, the leading man in this series is none other than Pyro himself. Stanford is the brooding time traveler named James Cole. Like Pyro, Cole is a character whose difficult to classify - is he good or is he bad? Perhaps that's too simple a question, since an ambiguous character can at times be the most intriguing. His understanding of the plague that kills seven billion people in 2017 is not as thorough as he once thought.

Cole and the organization he works for believe that by killing Leland Goines in 2015, they will prevent the terrible outbreak of 2017 from ever happening. Like time travel, even murdering someone is not an exact science and we soon learn of a greater mystery toward the end of the episode.

Apparently, there are others responsible for the end of all things called the Army of the 12 Monkeys. At one paradoxical point in the premiere, Leland tells Cole that they met each other in the late 1980s. Cole has no recollection of that meeting taking place, so one would have to assume that we will see more of the talented Zelijko Ivanek (True Blood) in a future episode.

12 Monkeys is a rarity in that its mysteries are just as interesting as its characters. Both Railly and Cole are people you'll want to get to know more, along with an assortment of other cast members that we only get a glimpse of. Most notably, Goines' estranged daughter Jennifer (Emily Hampshire), who we see drawing a picture of a Monkey in what looks to be a mental hospital. It will be interesting to see what side she chooses to fight for. Hopefully, this series will be a success for SyFy, allowing the network to take more risks with future projects.

So what did you think of SyFy's newest drama? For fans of the film, did you like the differences, or were they a distraction? Stay tuned to see what happens next.

12 Monkeys continues with 'Mentally Divergent' next Friday @9pm on SyFy. Check out a trailer for the series below:

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