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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Streaming Review: “12 Monkeys” – Engrossing Time-Travel Sci-Fi with Stellar Character Development

by Ray Keating
July 29, 2020

Much can be appreciated about Disney taking full control of Hulu. First, there’s the affordable streaming combo deal of Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+. Second, Hulu allows Disney to offer some intriguing storytelling that otherwise wouldn’t fit the purely wholesome Disney brand on Disney+. And finally, as publisher and writer for DisneyBizJournal.com, there’s not only more to write about from a business perspective regarding Hulu, but as a reviewer as well.

That last point brings me to my recent streaming of 12 Monkeys, a series that originally aired for four seasons on SyFy from 2015 to 2018. When on SyFy, the series had caught my attention, but I just never got around to watching it. And now with it streaming on Hulu and there being a pandemic, I finally settled in to watch. And I’m exceedingly pleased that I did. This is a rich, entertaining series in a variety of ways.

The basic idea is that a deadly plague hits (yeah, I know) and winds up wiping out more than 96 percent of the human race. However, a man named Cole, from a post-apocalyptic future, takes part in a dangerous attempt at time travel in the hopes of stopping the plague before it starts, and thereby saving 7 billion people.

If you enjoy time travel, including an assortment of time twisting and paradoxical moments, then 12 Monkeys is for you. After having watched the series, I feel like I need to review how an assortment of time bending moments fit into the overarching story. (I’m sure someone has provided such a time map, and I need only track it down online.) One of the nice touches in 12 Monkeys is the grittiness of the time machine and time travel itself, as well as the moral and ethical conundrums that emerge, and how different characters react to such scenarios.

But no matter the genre – from time-traveling sci-fi to Westerns – key requirements of good storytelling remain rather consistent, including an engrossing tale and interesting characters that the audience cares about one way or another. 

Another crucial story ingredient too often missing in episodic television is substantive character development. While long-form television storytelling featuring notable character development existed before, it was something of an exception. Cable channels and then streaming services allowed it to truly flourish.

12 Monkeys manages to pull in each of these story essentials. The characters are interesting and earn viewers’ attention. They include James Cole (Aaron Stanford), Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), Katarina Jones (Barbara Sukowa), Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), Jose Ramse (Kirk Acevedo), and Deacon (Todd Stashwick), along with others. 

To say that each of these characters goes on a journey of development over four seasons would be to understate matters. Each experiences dramatic ups and downs along the way, and winds up being, or being revealed as, a very different person at the end of the story than who we met at the outset. Indeed, the fact that these engrossing transformations or revelations are achieved for so many characters in 12 Monkeys is a tribute to the show’s creators, writers, directors and actors.

Finally, how many times have you been swept up in a long-form series only to have it cancelled on a cliffhanger (see another SyFy show Dark Matter) or you wind up with an inexplicably disappointing, underwhelming or perplexing ending (see Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle)? No worries about that with 12 Monkeys. I will in no way reveal anything about the ending, except that it ranked as one of the best endings to a series I’ve seen.

So, go watch 12 Monkeys on Hulu, and enjoy – despite it being about a pandemic.


Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at  raykeating@keatingreports.com.

Also, get the paperback or Kindle edition of Ray Keating’s new book Behind Enemy Lines: Conservative Communiques from Left-Wing New York.

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