12 Monkeys’ makes a generic TV show out of a distinctive movie

Like the Terry Gilliam film of the same name, the series focuses on a time traveler fighting a deadly plague.

Three stars

12 Monkeys Fridays, 9 p.m., Syfy.

The evolution of the story presented in Syfy’s 12 Monkeys is a study in moving from distinctive style to mainstream blandness: The ideas originated in French New Wave filmmaker Chris Marker’s 1962 short film La Jetée and were then expanded on by Terry Gilliam for his more accessible 1995 feature 12 Monkeys. Now the same story is being told in a Syfy series that smooths out the stylistic edges and streamlines the narrative, fitting it into the mold of an audience-friendly, action-heavy sci-fi show.

That’s not to say that Syfy’s 12 Monkeys is bad, just that it isn’t as striking or creative as its source material. Like Gilliam’s movie, the series focuses on time traveler Cole (Aaron Stanford), who travels back from the future in order to stop a deadly plague. Within the first two episodes, the story deviates from its origins, which is necessary for it to carry an entire series, and the twists inherent in the time-travel premise keep things exciting. Unlike its predecessors, the series focuses on plot over atmosphere, and it makes use of some stock sci-fi devices. It’s an entertaining genre series with some fun performances, but it doesn’t make the same lasting impression as the works that inspired it.

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