Television series based on successful movies isn’t a new idea. You may not have noticed, but they’ve been around for a long time. Heck, the idea goes back to 1969’s The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, starring Bill Bixby. However, the list of successful of movie-based television series is very short. And for good reason. Most of these series have either tried to be the exact movie it was based on (Ferris Bueller) or went to the complete opposite direction to become something we didn’t even recognize (Freddy’s Nightmares).
The list of colossal movie failures is long. Series like Blue Thunder, Delta House,Ferris Bueller (starring a pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston), the first attempt at Parenthood (with a young Leonardo DiCaprio), and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids are just the tip of the iceberg. The television landscape is littered with the wreckage of television-movie flops.
Then there are the series networks canned over fan objections. Alien Nation was an early Fox series the network canceled a bit too soon. Years later, the network did a repeat when it pulled the plug on fan favorite Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
The list of successful series (more than three seasons) is rather small. Alice, the sitcom from the 70s and 80s, was loosely based on Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. La Femme Nikita and Nikita (USA and The CW respectively) were both on for four seasons. Although Highlander: The Raven didn’t make it past its first season Highlander: The Series topped out at six seasons. In the Heat of the Night was on for seven seasons and four made-for-tv movies!
The outstanding movie-based television series is rather low. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on for seven seasons and Angel, the spin-off series, was on for five seasons. Buffy fans are just as die-hard today as they were when the series was its prime. Friday Night Lights, on for five seasons, struck a rare chord: It was loved by fans and critics. Parenthood, the most recent television incarnation, wrapped up its family drama with six seasons.Of course, you can’t forget M.A.S.H. The series was on for eleven years which is eight years longer than the Korean Conflict the show is set during.
The past year has seen a renaissance in movie-based television series. Fargo, the series, is just as brilliant as the movie Fargo. Who could blame you if you thought the Coen Brothers directed the series? It’s apparent the shows creators studied the Coen Brothers’ film to capture the feel, the sights, the characters, and the settings of Fargo. About a Boy (in its second season) has kept the charm and feel of the movie without becoming a carbon copy. And now the SyFy network has entered the fray with 12 Monkeys
So far, 3 episodes into the series, 12 Monkeys is doing everything right. Like About A Boy and Fargo, Monkeys has retained the feeling of the movie. It’s not a complete departure that would make viewers wonder how the series got greenlit in the first place. We know this series because we saw the movie. Although the series has made a few changes (a female Jeffrey Goines) it hasn’t been too jarring to make the series unwatchable.
Quite the opposite. 12 Monkeys is one of the better sci-fi shows to come along in the past few years. At first, I was concerned the schizophrenic vibe going on in the film would be absent. Terry Gilliam did a magnificent job crafting a story that had the audience confused. We weren’t sure if Cole, played by Bruce Willis, was crazy or delusional and neither is Madeleine Stowe’s Kathryn Railly. And then when Railly is convinced he’s not crazy, Cole isn’t too sure he’s sane. I’m sure in somewhere there is an argument that the whole movie is in Cole’s head.
However, the series throws it out on the first episode that Cole isn’t crazy and all of this is real. Cole disappears right before Cassandra Railly’s (not Kathryn) eyes. We know it’s real, we know there is not going to be any questioning of what is the truth and what is not. “Everyone is dead,” Jones tells Cole before he “splinters” back to 2013 and it’s true.
12 Monkeys has elaborated on many of the characters from the movie. Jones, the main doctor from the future, is a key player in the story. Ramse (who was Jose in the movie) is more than a soldier in a grainy picture, he’s Cole’s best friend in his own time. The movie also introduces a father for Jennifer Goines, a secret pharmaceutical/bio company, and a hit man played by the always awesome Tom Noonan. And never fear, the Army of the 12 Monkeys is rearing its head.
12 Monkeys works because it blends both the movie and new material into a series that works. It’s smart, the acting is good, and it leaves us wanting for more. If you haven’t seen an episode yet do yourself a favor and watch. You’ll be addicted and finding yourself joining the Army of the 12 Monkeys.