12 Monkeys is an American television series on Syfy created by Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett. It is a science fiction mystery drama with a time traveling plot loosely based on the 1995 film of the same name, which was written by David and Janet Peoples and directed by Terry Gilliam, itself being inspired by Chris Marker's 1962 short film La Jetée; the series credits both the Peoples and Marker for their original works.
In the series, Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull star as James Cole and Dr. Cassandra "Cassie" Railly, who use time travel in an effort to stop the destructive plans of the enigmatic organization "Army of the 12 Monkeys". Kirk Acevedo and Noah Bean also star in the first season. In the second season, Bean makes a guest appearance, and Todd Stashwick, Emily Hampshire and Barbara Sukowa are promoted from recurring guests to regulars. Stanford, Schull and Hampshire play reimagined versions of characters respectively portrayed by Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt in the 1995 film.
Natalie Chaidez was the showrunner of 12 Monkeys during its first season, assisting Matalas and Fickett. After the season completed, she stepped down to the role of consultant, in order to oversee production of a series of her own which was already in development, and Matalas and Fickett became showrunners. The series is produced by Atlas Entertainment, which produced the original film, and Universal Cable Productions. Charles Roven, producer of the original, is one of the executive producers.
12 Monkeys premiered on January 16, 2015 with a 13-episode first season. On March 12, 2015, the series was renewed for a second 13-episode season that premiered on April 18, 2016. On June 29, 2016, it was renewed for a 10-episode third season, set to premiere in 2017.
In the year 2043, scavenger James Cole (Aaron Stanford) has been recruited by a team of "Project Splinter" scientists led by Katarina Jones (Barbara Sukowa), to travel back in time to the year 2015, and stop the release of a deadly virus by the enigmatic organization known as the "Army of the 12 Monkeys". In Cole's original timeline, the virus caused a plague that resulted in the death of seven billion humans in the year 2017, and its on-going mutations will mean the eventual end of the human race. In the 2015 timeline, Cole will meet and enlist the help of brilliant virologist Cassandra "Cassie" Railly (Amanda Schull); the two are brought together because a recording mentioning Cole, that Cassie made after the viral outbreak, is uncovered by Jones in the future timeline, prompting her to select Cole for the mission. Cole will also encounter a seemingly unstable math genius named Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), whose father Cole has been tasked to kill, Cassie's ex-boyfriend Aaron Marker (Noah Bean), and the dangerous high ranking members of the Army of the 12 Monkeys, "Palid Man" (Tom Noonan) and Olivia (Alisen Down). In the future timeline, Cole will also have to deal with his best friend José Ramse (Kirk Acevedo), and a man named Theodore Deacon (Todd Stashwick), who leads a brutal pack of scavengers from which Cole and Ramse fled from. Meanwhile, Cole and Cassie will try to unveil the identity and whereabouts of the mysterious leader of the Army of the 12 Monkeys who is only known as "The Witness", and is always one step ahead of them.Aaron Stanford as James Cole, a scavenger who travels back in time to stop the plague and redeem himself from his troubled past
Amanda Schull as Dr. Cassandra "Cassie" Railly, a virologist who leaves a message about the origins of the plague that scientists recover in the future
Kirk Acevedo as José Ramse, Cole's best friend
Noah Bean as Aaron Marker (season 1; guest season 2), Cassie's ex-boyfriend and political insider
Todd Stashwick as Theodore Deacon (season 2; recurring season 1), leader of a brutal group of survivors called the West VII
Emily Hampshire as Jennifer Goines (season 2; recurring season 1), daughter of Leland Goines and a math genius, who meets Cole in a psych ward
Barbara Sukowa as Katarina Jones (née Werner) (season 2; recurring season 1), the operator of the time machine
Ramon de Ocampo as Oliver Peters, Markridge Group's medical researcher
Tom Noonan as the unnamed man commonly referred as "Pallid Man" by the writers, also known as "Tall Man", who is the villainous face of the Army of the 12 Monkeys
Demore Barnes as Marcus Whitley, one of the few remaining soldiers of the U.S. military
Romina D'Ugo as Max (season 1), a scavenger of the West VII group, and former lover of Cole
Alisen Down as Olivia, also known as "Striking Woman" outside the show, a high-ranking member of the Army of the 12 Monkeys and sister of the Pallid Man
Amy Sloan as Elena (season 1), mother of Ramse's son
Andrew Gillies as Adler (season 2; co-star season 1), a Project Splinter scientist
Scottie Thompson as the unnamed woman referred by the writers as "Mantis" (season 2), a calculating and menacing time traveler, and mother of the Pallid Man and Olivia
Michael Hogan as Dr. Vance Eckland (season 2), a charismatic and intelligent scientist from the future
Jay Karnes as Robert Gale (season 2), a savvy 1940s FBI agent who believes a series of grisly murders may have something to do with Cole, whom he suspects might not be from this time
Brooke Williams as Hannah Jones (season 2), Katarina and Elliot's biological daughter
James Callis (season 3), a rebellious and enigmatic time traveler raised throughout history by the Army of the 12 Monkeys.
Hannah Waddingham as Magdalena (season 3), a member of an apocalyptic cult charged with protecting the Witness who has been dubbed "both ruthless and expedient" in her methods.
Faran Tahir as Mallick (season 3), an imposing and devout enforcer of the Army of the 12 Monkeys who resides in Titan.
Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett, who had written together for the series Nikita and Terra Nova, wrote an original spec script television pilot with a time travelling plot, named Splinter. Eventually, the script found its way in Atlas Entertainment's offices, who had produced the 12 Monkeys movie and had been wanting to create a TV series based on it for some time. After some deliberation, Matalas and Fickett came to an agreement with Atlas Entertainment to transform Splinter into a 12 Monkeys adaptation. According to Matalas, aside of the overall structure of the plot being an attempt to stop a man from doing something in the past, the concept of the same watch from different points in time, the terminology used for traveling through time ("splintering"), and the female lead character named "Cassie", most of the Splinter pilot was changed.
On July 22, 2013, The Hollywood Reporter first revealed that SyFy was developing a 12 Monkeys television adaptation, in the form a 90-minute backdoor pilot that would lead to a straight-to-series order, similarly to what the Battlestar Galactica miniseries did. The pitch for the pilot, which would be written by Matalas and Picket, was submitted to SyFy by Atlas Entertainment's Charles Roven and Richard Suckle; Roven was one of the producers of the original film. Jon Cassar was reported as being on board to direct. The following month, it was reported that SyFy decided to green-lit an hour-long pilot, which would be executive produced by Roven and Suckle, with production set to begin in November. Due to the series being labeled as "cast contingent", production could not move forward until the roles of Cole and Goines were cast. On April 4, 2014, Syfy green-lit the first season, consisting of 13 episodes, including the pilot filmed in 2013. The pilot was directed and executive produced by Jeffrey Reiner; Matalas and Ficket, who wrote it, were announced to co-executive produce the season, while Natalie Chaidez would serve as showrunner. Chaidez credited her experience writing for the first season of Heroes and the two seasons of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, two science fiction series with time traveling plots, as valuable to understanding how to make 12 Monkeys work. Matalas presented the series as a "complete reimagining" of the film and not just a remake, citing Looper as an inspiration for the time travel visual effects. In fact, as Matalas explained, the story of the film was adapted into the first act of the pilot, and from there on, the series follows an original storyline, although it continues to homage both the film and La Jetée. Madeleine Stowe, who played the equivalent of Amanda Schull's character in the film, narrated the opening of the season 2 premiere and made an appearance in its finale. Two major differences compared to the movie are that this version of time travel allows for changes in the past to affect future, and that the "Army of the 12 Monkeys" is a real organization rather than a red herring.
The series creators plotted three seasons in advance, although they noted that the show could go on for longer than that. During the second season they said they need four seasons to tell the complete story. The ending of the series has been known to them since the beginning. Matalas said about it: "We have a definitive target in place. It's very emotional and it's going to make everyone cry." Chaidez said the ending is designed to "circle back".
The series premiered on January 16, 2015, and was renewed for a second season on March 12, 2015, which premiered on April 18, 2016. Matalas and Fickett, who had opted for Chaidez to showrun the first season because of her bigger experience working on TV, replaced her during the second season, after her departure to showrun her own TV series, Hunters. Chaidez instead became a consultant. The third season was announced on June 29, 2016 to premiere in 2017, with an episode which will be the directorial debut for Matalas.
Produced by Atlas Entertainment and Universal Cable Productions, principal photography takes place in Toronto. Parts of the pilot were shot in Detroit. For the second season they also shot in Budapest for about 10 days.
Trevor Rabin and his longtime assistant Paul Linford composed the series' music for its first two seasons. Varèse Sarabande released the composers' score for the first season, consisting of 23 tracks, digitally and on CD, on July 31, 2015. Rabin called it "a hybrid score of ethnic sounds, orchestra, and electronic, with a strong theme base".
In the third season, Bryce Jacobs is set to replace Rabin and Linford as composer.
The original film's theme music — an arrangement of Astor Piazzolla's Suite Punta del Este made by Paul Buckmaster — can be heard during the ninth episode of the second season, "Hyena".
Critical reception of the first season of 12 Monkeys has been mixed to positive. Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator website, reported a 62% critical approval rating with an average rating of 5.98/10 based on 34 reviews. The website's critical consensus reads, "The nonsensical time travel in 12 Monkeys makes it less watchable than its original source material, but the high quality execution and cool characters are top-notch." On Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, the season is assigned a score of 57 out of 100, based on 25 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Christine Seghers rated the first season 8.8/10 and wrote in her review for IGN: "What started as a simple 'let's go back and fix this' story soon blossomed into a deep philosophical mediation on the concept of predestination versus free will. If you wanted it. The show is also an awful lot of fun."
For the second season of 12 Monkeys, Rotten Tomatoes indexed 7 reviews and reported an 86% critical approval rating with an average rating of 8.0/10. Seghers, rating the season 9.0/10, wrote for IGN: "In its outstanding sophomore season, 12 Monkeys became bigger, bolder and more beautifully baffling, reaffirming its status as one of the best sci-fi shows on television today."
Before the premiere of the series, Terry Gilliam, director of the original film, called the idea of a 12 Monkeys series dumb and ridiculous, while admitting knowing nothing about it since he wasn't contacted. "If it was going to be any good it would have to be written by David and Janet Peoples, who wrote the film, otherwise it would just be another version of Time Bandits.", said Gilliam. According to Matalas, both the Peoples and Chris Marker, writers of 12 Monkeys and La Jetée respectively, read the pilot and gave the series creators their blessing and support to move forward with it. The Peoples and Marker, are credited in the opening and closing credits of each episode for their original works, respectively. Madeleine Stowe, lead actress of the original film, became supportive of the filmmakers after watching the pilot, appreciating the differences between her character and Amanda Schull's interpretation. She was later cast in a pivotal role in the second season.
Syfy UK acquired regional broadcasting rights and 12 Monkeys premiered in the UK on February 27.
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment released the first season of the series on DVD and Blu-ray on January 19, 2016. On February 11, 2016, Syfy and Hulu announced that the latter will have the exclusive streaming rights for the first season's episodes, after they are made available on February 24.
Season 2 was made available on DVD and Blu-ray on January 17, 2017.