When a traditional TV network announces they are going to "binge" premiere the season of a show, it's generally not a positive sign. Either they are looking to attract some attention for a quirky series that might be overlooked (see "Angie Tribeca"). Or they have completely lost faith in the show and are looking for the least painful way to cauterize the wound and move on.
That's why I was originally perplexed by Syfy's decision to air the third season of its time travel drama "12 Monkeys" over the course of a three-day weekend. The network had also ordered a season four of the show, so they presumably were happy with what they saw in the season three episodes. So why do it this way?
Some of the decision was likely an effort to cut through the clutter. Syfy has had an impressive couple of years rolling out new scripted dramas and there are more to come this year. They have a lot of well-written shows and this is one way to remind fans of "12 Monkeys" that it's back.
But the decision makes more sense when you watch the entire marathon of episodes. Anyone who has ever binged a season or more of a show over a weekend knows that some shows are better suited to back-to-back viewing that others. The best experience happens when the episodes are inter-connected in a tonal way that makes the individual episodes seem like smaller slices of a much larger story arc. And season three of "12 Monkeys" certainly fits into that category.
The series is based on the Bruce Willis movie of the same name and much of the first season fleshed out some of the stories and characters from that film. James Cole (Aaron Stanford), is sent back in time to stop a worldwide plague before it starts. But any good time travel is filled with unintended consequences. It quickly becomes clear that his travel into the past might ironically be the catalyst that causes the plague. Teamed up with his best friend Ramse (Kirk Acevedo) and Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull), he struggles to undo the damage he seems to do to the timeline every time he travels back. And then there's former scientist-turned-asylum patient Jennifer Goines (Emily Hampshire), who might be crazy. But she is also intimately connected with the creation of the plague and the group trying to release it into the wild.
If season one was a back-to-back string of increasingly complex and inter-connected action episodes, season two broke open the universe of the show. Backstories were filled in, the story became increasingly fluid. It was revealed that the Army of the 12 Monkeys (the group behind the release of the plague) had some motives that weren't apparent early on. And then there was the introduction of the mysterious villain The Watcher, who always seemed to be close at hand no matter the time line. The tone of episodes varied wildly and while the phrase "roller coaster ride" is incredibly over-used, it's an accurate description of season two.
Season three of "12 Monkeys" has the complexity of the two previous seasons, but it's also has a more restrained feel. While season two episodes stood best on their own and strung out one a week, this season is best experienced in a marathon. The connections between individual episodes and the overall story arc are more pronounced. As a result, the episodes are best experienced in a block, letting the challenges faced by the characters wash over you.
It's impossible to say much about season three without spoiling important facts. But if you've enjoyed "12 Monkeys" so far, you are going be blown away by this weekend's episodes. As the wave of TV show cancellations in recent weeks have illustrated, getting time travel right can be incredibly difficult. "12 Monkeys" doesn't just do time travel way, it manages to create a universe that you are about more than the science used by the characters to get connect.
"12 Monkeys" is one of those rare TV shows that transcends the source material and given the quality of the original film, that's no small task.
The new season of "12 Monkeys" premieres on Syfy Friday, May 19th at 8:00/7:00c (four episodes), followed by three episodes on May 20th and May 21st.