12 Monkeys - the season's biggest surprise
Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys - much like La Jetée, the short that inspired it - didn't really lend itself to an episodic format so twenty years later we had little hope that the TV series being developed by Syfy would be much to write home about. However, so far we have to admit that our pessimism was more than a little misplaced.
The series takes the core concept from the film and runs with it. A virus wipes out most of humanity in the near future and the the survivors manage to find a way of sending someone back in time to attempt to stop the outbreak and save millions of lives. That someone is Cole; played here by Aaron Stanford who using a machine that will eventually kill him travels back to 2015 to enlist the help of Catherine Railly (Amanda Schull). Between them they must track down the creator of the virus, Leland Frost, and kill him before he has a chance to complete his work. The pilot pretty much covered the same ground as the film but an added twist opens up the gates for a much longer-running storyline that suits TV.
Stanford's Cole isn't in quite the same emotionally challenged state as Bruce Willis' take on the character; and if we're honest he we don't think he quite has the gravitas that the role could benefit from. Schull on the other hand is a revelation - Madeleine Stowe played Railly in the film, but here she's a much stronger character and less of a cipher which can only be a good thing. Another standout, who has been sorely underused so far is Emily Hampshire who takes on a gender-swapped Brad Pitt role as Jennifer Goines - we're hoping we see more of her later on in the story. We also love the creepy Tom Noonan who turns up as a the mysterious big bad and his imposing presence steals every scene.
The post-apocalyptic world of 2043 isn't quite as desolate either - there are groups of survivors and scavengers and living conditions vary massively too. There is a clear divide between the haves and have nots that leads to much in the way of conflict and, in particular, Cole's old group 'West 7' are much feared thanks to their ruthless actions.
The biggest problem is that the balance between future and present timelines maybe a little TOO generous to the events in 2043; we get that Cole needs to travel between and some kind of peril there putting the attempts to correct the past at risk makes sense; but sometimes we just feel an urge to return to 2015 and get on with things. There's this odd disconnect that means that while the 2015 story IS progressing more quickly than we thought it would, there is a feeling that some aspects are dragging the pacing down. We love the mind-bending timey-wimey storytelling but it might be good to see more evidence of change as a results of Cole's actions in the past.
Given the show has been confirmed for a second season, there's a good chance that these early teething and balancing issues will be ironed out as we move on. From what we've seen in the second half of the season so far, sticking with it is starting to pay dividends and we're looking forward to an exciting finale.