12 Monkeys

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
12 Monkeys TV Poster Image
Twisty, clever dystopian thriller has disturbing images.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Heroes and heroines are actively engaged in trying to help people, but their methods are often questionable at best. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are complex; the time travel conceit gives them many opportunities to behave poorly, but they try to work for the greater good. 

Violence

The show's plot hinges on a plague that destroys mankind; there are disturbing images of dead bodies being stacked in piles; starving, bleeding people; faceless evil people who come out of nowhere to menace characters; and stabbings, shootings, and bludgeonings. Lots of disturbing medical/military imagery. 

Sex

One character advises another to "get laid," and the former jokes he'll go back in time and have sex with his friend's mother. 

Language

Frequent "hell" and "damn," occasional "s--t" and "a--hole." 

Consumerism

This show is based on an American remake of a French sci-fi movie; viewers may want to see one or both movies, which are more violent and disturbing than this show. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character briefly smokes on-screen. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 12 Monkeys is a science-fiction show loosely based on Terry Gilliam's dystopian film about time travelers attempting to prevent a plague that wipes out most of humanity. Dread and menace are constant, with enemies popping up unexpectedly and characters dying suddenly. There are point-blank shootings, stabbings, blood, gore, and disturbing medical/military imagery, including scenes of dead bodies being piled high post-plague. Heroic characters have murky/unclear motives and questionable methods. 

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What's the story?

When an armed man breaks into Dr. Cassandra Railly's (Amanda Schull) car one ordinary evening, her world begins collapsing around her. The armed man, Cole (Aaron Stanford), is a time traveler from the future, and he has a message for Cassandra: In a few short years, a mysterious group known as the Army of the 12 MONKEYS will launch a plague that will decimate humanity. In the apocalyptic world that remains almost 40 years after the plague struck, scientists are piecing together how the pandemic was created and spread when they stumble upon technology that will allow them to send one man back in time. Can Cole find the Army of the 12 Monkeys and stop them before they bring their nefarious plan to fruition? 

Is it any good?

The idea of a pandemic that wipes us all out is definitely realistic enough to give this Syfy series a creepy chill. It's easy to picture an unhinged somebody (or an army of somebodies) hell-bent enough on some esoteric goal to unleash destruction, and 12 Monkeys plays it smart by making the Army of 12 Monkeys' motives a mystical puzzle that Cole and Cassandra must unravel piece by piece. What is the connection to shadowy, resolute virologist Leland Goines? What did his unstable daughter Jennifer (breakout live wire Emily Hampshire) witness that landed her in a psych ward? How can Cassandra and Cole stop the plague when they aren't even sure where it came from? 

Time travel is a typical and tidy way to tie up loose ends in sci-fi, but 12 Monkeys skewers the trope by making "splintering" an inexact science. When the desperate academics of 2043 try to send Cole back to find someone, they're as likely to send him to the wrong country (at one point he's captured in North Korea) as to the wrong time. It's a cool conceit: Going back in time is no guarantee everything's going to wind up OK. Sci-fi fans are definitely going to want to watch to see what happens; and, so long as you don't have young or sensitive viewers in your house, the whole family can check this show out. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why the premise of 12 Monkeys is frightening to modern viewers. What about our society makes a pandemic possible or even likely? 

  • Watch the original movie 12 Monkeys on which this show is based. Which characters are much like they were on-screen? 

  • What are the emotions the creators of this show want you to feel while watching? Should you be laughing? Feel frightened? Nervous? Disgusted?

TV details

For kids who love sci-fi thrillers

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