Remember that rush you felt when you were thrown right into the perils of the passengers of Oceanic Flight 815? How the tail of the plane ripped apart, flung to the winds never to be seen (or so we thought) and how chisel-jawed Matthew Fox found a way to corral a rag tag team of survivors reeling from that horrific crash landing?
Due to the real life occurrences of South Asian air tragedies, audiences may not be too keen to remember the immediate impact of the events that unfolded on American television sets the night of September 22, 2004 but 15.7 million viewers became weekly visitors to that strange island. It was a phenomenon from the second viewers saw the fully realized world created by J.J. Adams, Damon Lindelof and his cohorts. The rabid online obsession, fan conspiracies and elevation of the small-screen past the “pictures” to the status that it holds today owes a great deal to the Lost pilot.
While these thoughts of providence and progeny may not be going through your head while watching the first episode of Syfy’s own big-to-small screen adaptaion, 12 Monkeys, it’s a good bet those familiar feelings of adrenaline, heart palpitations and “where the $@#! Are they going to go with this?” will resurface.
Loosely based on Terry Gilliam’s kooky 1995 dystopian time-travel cult classic of the same name, this iteration mostly hews closely to the established premise. A man from the future (Aaron Stanford) where 99% of the population has died from a plague goes back in time to stop it. Ostensibly taking the role of Madeleine Stowe’s Kathryn Railly from the movie is relative unknown Amanda Schull. After a few minutes of exposition and winking nods to the movie, the show thrusts the action forward and immediately comes into its own.
Stanford in particular remarkably improves on Bruce Willis’ portrayal of James Cole, the reluctant chronological itinerant. While Willis’ Cole was a bit mush-mouthed and frustratingly slow, Stanford plays his character with alacrity. His wild eyes and haggard appearance keeps the severity of his task front and center as he maneuvers through our near past and present trying to complete his mission. It’s not all doom and gloom for our hero though; the future doesn’t have any cheeseburgers and a light moment shines through when Cole first encounters them. Schull, who seemingly channels a young Nicole Kidman, has the unenviable task of being the avatar for the viewer; knowing little and having to react to things happening around her. Thus far she plays not much more than a sexy, blonde possible love interest, but showrunner Natalie Chaidez ramps up her involvement in the second episode. Hopefully that continues throughout the season.
To be fair, Twelve Monkeys is firmly a genre show. Don’t expect the incisive Milton-esque polish of that other recent and fantastic movie-to-TV adaptation, Fargo (you may get what you’re looking for in another Syfy project coming down the pipe though). While Syfy has publicly vowed that 2015 a year where they intend to do more Battlestar Galacticas and less Sharknados, suspension of disbelief is still required to fully enjoy this particular reimagining. There is – of course – time-traveling, paradoxes, secret government organizations…. all the standard hallmarks of science fiction. Think Orphan Black and you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into. But don’t let Syfy’s past scare you from this effort. While the public (with good reason) is wary of all the established properties that continue to get remade and remade until we end up with Transformers: Age of Extinction, in the right hands, a known world can be improved and explored upon in exciting ways. Twelve Monkeys is a thrill ride and has all the makings of this year’s first cult classic.
‘Syfy’ and ‘quality’? Not so much a paradox any more.