12 Monkeys Report Card
Here's that part of the school season a lot of us don't remember fondly, the dreaded report card. Unless, of course, you're one of those "A" students where everything came easy and you were the apple of your teachers eye.
As part of the "dreadful" majority, I think we can all be thankful Doctor Jones wasn't part of our collective faculty. I can just imagine being called to the front of her class.
"Zo, how do you think you did this past season Herr Inter-dimensional Dave?"
"Um, pretty good I guess."
"Nein! Initiate splinter sequence!"
The next thing I'd know I'd be sent back to the Second Grade in order to gain a better appreciation of my academic experience. Mind you there would be no lovely Cassie to help me along my journey but I seem to remember my second grade teacher bearing an eerie resemblance to The Pallid Man.
I like to think of myself as a tough marker. How better to teach the class than to make them earn it?
12 Monkeys was under a lot of scrutiny. Particularly by me. I brazenly put the show under "double secret probation." They had the temerity to borrow the title of a cherished sci-fi classic and henceforth had to withstand my withering gaze. I vowed to measure 12 Monkeys against some of the most popular sci-fi/geek shows of the last 25 years or so. How would they stand against such shows like, Fringe, Buffy, The X-Files, Star Trek TNG, Game of Thrones and Xena Warrior Princess? (Yes, that one too.)
Could they put together a viable ensemble cast? Could they tell a new and refreshing story that not only compelled us to watch but, most importantly, did not insult our intelligence? Would there be real heroes and villains? People we could cheer for and root against? What about world building? Could they create a universe believable to be accepted as real? What would be it's "mythology?" What about stakes and agency?
A tall order for a freshman student whose concept started out as one thing but morphed into something similar and borrowed that aforementioned classic sci-fi title.
So how did they do?
I thought they did very well. I know some of you are screaming for an "A" for 12 Monkeys. But like I said before, you need room to grow and you need to push expectations. I feel a little like an Olympic figure skating judge. You can't give the first skater a 10 despite an excellent program. What if the next skater does even better? In my book a B+ is better than an A-. An A- means you were excellent buuut there was that little thing that put that mustache on your masterpiece and that's what everyone remembers. A B+ means you did very well annnd you went beyond expectations.
12 Monkeys put together a terrific cast. A workable ensemble isn't always easy to assemble. There has to be chemistry. I think we've seen many show where the actors just click. (Buffy.) But there are many others that just go through the motions and rely on the laugh track. (Big Bang.) What's unique about 12 Monkeys is the cast's consistency through to time. I mean that in every sense of the word. How many times have we seen the cast work through each others foibles and faults, not just through the length of the season but across time. The connection they make with each other whether it is 1987, 2015, 2017 or 2043 is remarkable. Of course, a lot of that credit goes to the writing.
So let's talk about the writing. One of my hard and fast rules of thumb is don't insult the audience. We're not idiots. We may not be well versed in the physics of time travel and it's mind numbing parameters but we can follow rules. If you set out the rules of your show and adhere to them then your audience will follow you anywhere. Time travel makes it easy to bend the rules just the tad but I think 12 Monkeys mostly did that in service to the show and it wasn't flagrant.
A key component to writing is "world building." It was exceptional also. Whether we were in the Eighties, early 2000's or 2043 we never lost the consistency. The transition between timelines and how the characters interacted with each other was terrific. Another plus was the set design or direction, it was a beauty to behold.
Another important measure of a shows success is how the audience connects with it through social media. Hey, it's the 21st century, this is how we roll. I call this interaction, "Community." If you can get total strangers to bond with one another through theories, fan fiction, podcasts, artwork and even blogs, then you've really accomplished something. Nothing bonds the Community like "Shipping" also. I'm not a big "Shipper" but it is a phenomena to be reckoned with. This harkens back to the skill of the writers but it also is a credit to the actors. Can they make their relationships believable? Does it feel organic or it forced?
12 Monkeys may have gotten an overall grade of B+ but in terms of community they get a solid A.
So let's get to the fun part of the Report Card and grade the players.
I know, shocker, right? If you don't know about my adoration for Dr. Jones then you haven't been reading this blog. From the very beginning, I loved how Ms. Sukowa imbued her character with a fierce obstinance. I guess I found her arrogance appealing! She gave Jones a charismatic touch also. As one of the characters, and as a viewer, you weren't entirely sure you could trust her but you followed her anyway. It was that confidence she radiated. Call it an "Aristocracy" if you will.
There were cracks in the armor however and Ms. Sukowa gave us a chilling turn when her character was faced with an unwinnable situation. Her final solution to Col. Foster's resistance left us shocked.
It wasn't often we got to see the soft side of Dr. Jones. But when we did it left us humbled. Her care for Cole when "time" was running out for him felt very real and then there is the palpable tenderness exuded by Ms. Sukowa whenever "Hannah" came into play. It wasn't something she shared with her fellow characters but we the viewing audience was privileged to see it.
That's right, an "A."
Should I ever meet Ms. Schull I can imagine her shooting me. I started out the season by characterizing her as "too pretty." Which, I suppose, is code for "paper thin." Someone that good looking can't be there for her acting talent. Please shoot me Amanda Schull, how wrong I was.
There is something I call, "Selling it with a look." It refers to non-verbal acting talent where there is no dialog but the facial expression says it all. Kirk Acevedo is a master of it. (We'll get to him soon.) Above is my favorite "look" from Amanda Schull. It's that look of incredulity she gave to Cole when he wanted to spare Ramse. I wonder if there is an outtake of that scene where she tears Cole a new one and drops a half dozen F-bombs and then squirts him in the face with her gun? I'd pay to see that.
Ms. Schull showed terrific range also. When she was sad we were sad. And when she discovered Scotch doesn't stop the apocalypse it showed a touch for light humor despite the fact she was acting hungover.
Another one of my favorite moments was when Cole got his dancing lesson from Cassie. I think it was the tenderness Ms. Schull showed us that won me over. Cole was being a bit oafish. Stuffing his face, tripping over his own feet. Schull not only exuded tenderness but also amusement and yes, affection, for Cole.
Shoot me Amanda Schull. I deserve it.
Kirk Acevedo gets a B+ because I don't think he gets to stretch his acting chops enough. But he is the guy that can "sell it with one look." Unfortunately, that look is usually dour acceptance. He is the king of resignation. He usually portrays the guy that knows when he has been dealt a bad hand. The second banana that is the ultimate partner or buddy. Can anyone recall a scene from anything where Acevedo was asked to burst out in uncontrollable laughter?
Then again, that's not why you hire Kirk Acevedo.
Aaron Stanford isn't required to do a lot that would make people sit up and take notice. He pretty much has to play it straight. He plays, "the man out of time" or the "fish out of water." (Think Sleepy Hollow's Tom Mison. Although he gets a ton more to chew on.) Stanford plays a former "Scav" or scavenger so therein he has to portray someone low key or unnoticeable. We've seen him "oafish" when he did that dancing lesson turn with Amanda Schull mentioned previously. And we've seen him grind through a scene when he is afflicted by time sickness or shot by an adversary. We can see the pain etched on Aaron Stanford's face and he does it well.
But what if he was asked to play a romantic lead? (Personally, I'm not for it. The romance that is. It kills the tension between two leads. (Then again, after seeing Felicity and Ollie in the last "Arrow" maybe anything can happen.) If he is required to portray "the lover" how will he handle it. Oafish? Actually, I hope so because his character is untried in matters of romance. We didn't get to much between his character and Max so we don't really know. I would guess his relationship with Max was out of, ahem, necessity, as opposed to love.
What if Aaron Stanford was asked to portray the hero? But he is the hero Dave! Well, yes and no. The reluctant hero maybe. After he rescued Ramse during the last sequence of the season finale there is no ducking the hero label now. It was quite the moment. (You can tell by the slow-mo turn around.) Will Stanford be required to expand upon his role with bigger heroic moments? How will he handle it?
Perhaps I am fooled by the subtlety of Stanford's performance. If so, he can stand in line behind Ms. Schull to take a shot at me. But I'd like to think there is room to grow for Stanford and he will be asked to do a lot more. I'd like to see that.
The Rest of the Class
I once described Emma Stone the cultural inheritor to the comic genius of Lucille Ball. So how shall I define Emily Hampshire's inspired knack for comedy? Mary Tyler Moore? Julia Louis-Dreyfus? Hmm, that's a tough one. I'd say a combination of both. MTM started out as the frantic housewife and evolved into the consummate straight man where subtlety became a superpower. J L-D was our loveable neurotic that became a vaudevillian Veep with a PhD in facial expressions. Ms. Hampshire seems to have distilled the best of both icons.
Of course, I'm referring to Emily Hampshire's take on Jennifer Goines. It's brilliant.
There is a certain childlike quality to Hampshire's "insanity." It's laden with youthful enthusiasm and delight. She takes us on a wild ride and we gleefully go along with her.
When Jennifer first met Cole it was a "turn on" for her. Not only was she excited to meet him but she was, ahem, "excited" to meet him. Their relationship quickly developed into a contest to see could get on top and when Jennifer was restrained by Cole she loved it even more.
That's not to say she can't handle the other end of the spectrum. Her abject fear for the Pallid Man was unmistakeable.
The near catatonic look on her face when her Markridge mates were murdered before her was amazing.
There was a scene near the end of the season where her father, Leland, came to visit her in the sanatorium. She implored him to get her out of there and desperately told him she "wasn't like Mom." You could almost see her heart break when he rejected her. I wish I had a picture of that but it is indelibly burned in my subconscious.
Emily Hampshire becomes a series regular next season but I already have a bumper sticker on my car proclaiming her an "Honor Student" in my class.
Here's another example of selling it with a look. Good job Noah, that's the face you make when someone disappears in time right before your eyes. Mr. Bean didn't have to stretch it too much this season. He mostly had to play the exasperated boyfriend or the exasperated ally of Cole. I loved his affection for Cassie and the consternation he felt when she rejected it. Will Noah Bean return next season? No one is ever dead in a time travel show. Just ask Leland Goines. If we get a "post barbecued" Aaron next year that will be fascinating. Bitter, angry, resentful and scarred for life. Imagine if he survives to 2043 and runs into Cassie. Oh, man.
They don't call her "The Striking Woman" for nothing. Ms. Down had a modest yet impactful role in the show. That seductive whisper of hers was intoxicating. I don't think I'd last 5 minutes being interrogated by Olivia. "You want the defensive plans for continental North America my dear?"
How will Ms. Down deal with a character whose timeline has just been turned upside down? Have we ever seen her angry?
Please dear TV gods let's hope we do.
By now Noah Bean is screaming, "What the Hell, these guys get less screen time than me and I only get a B?
Sorry Noah, they just got more to chew on than you. Barne's Whitley was a very sympathetic character. We witnessed his fierce loyalty to both his father and Dr. Jones and his cold dispassion when he executed one of his own men for shooting Elena. Well done.
Didn't I say an "A-" was bad? Eh, not in this case. Tom Noonan excelled as the "Pallid Man." (Although he looks a little florid in the above picture.) Noonan did some of his best work opposite Emily Hampshire. If she looked frail and frightened then he was at his creepiest. His glee at her terror was almost perverse in nature. The few times we got to see different emotions from were a treat also. I loved that stuttering anger when he felt Olivia was holding out on him. Does the Pallid Man have room to grow? Maybe. What happens when he finds out Olivia really has been holding out on him. Will resentment grow? Noonan may get the chance to play the turncoat. Or sacrificial lamb as the case may be. No offense, but I bet Noonan can do craven.
I started out this piece by saying I was a tough marker. That doesn't seem apparent by all the good grades everyone earned. I think I've been fair and people have gotten the marks they deserve but hopefully left room to grow.
Oh, I suppose there is one other.
C'mon dude, emote! Give us something! Or is it dudette? Just kidding o' mysterious one. Let's do tea.