TV Review: ‘11.22.63’

11.22.63 TV Review Amazon
Courtesy of Hulu

Boasting gaudy auspices (including J.J. Abrams), stars (James Franco) and the lure of another Stephen King bestseller, “11.22.63” represents a major breakthrough for Hulu in terms of sheer buzz and scope. Yet the resulting eight-part miniseries is an uneven affair, at times feeling as if it’s meandering through history en route to its frantic closing kick – a “Twilight Zone” episode, stretched and kneaded to wring more out of it, while making up the rules as it goes along. That said, even if the project doesn’t clearly alter Hulu’s history, it certainly sets the streaming service on a more ambitious path.

Like so many time-travel stories, the issue of tinkering with the past to change the present and future is as complicated as it is tantalizing. And in this case, King zeroed in on a big target: John F. Kennedy’s assassination on the date in question, and the escalation of the Vietnam War and other tumultuous events that followed.

The unlikely conduit to affect those outcomes is Jake Epping (Franco), a newly divorced English teacher in (where else?) Maine. In the extended premiere, his pal the local diner owner, Al (Chris Cooper), prods Jake to take a Narnia-like walk into his closet, revealing a time portal that instantly whisks one back to 1960. There, Al has spent years (although mere minutes elapse here) plotting out and planning a way to prevent Kennedy’s death, convinced it will spare the world much of the pain that ensued.

The follow-through for the plan, though, eventually falls to Jake, and comes with an assortment of cryptic warnings and a degree of difficulty worthy of an Olympic dive – including that the timeline doesn’t want to be altered and will push back, in peculiar ways, when it feels in danger of being manipulated. There’s also the potential “butterfly effect,” and whether Jake’s actions could yield an array of unintended consequences.

Adapted by Bridget Carpenter, with the super-sized opening chapter directed by Kevin Macdonald, “11.22.63” is certainly impeccable in terms of its period look (it shot in Canada and Dallas), and impressive in its casting, even if some of the big names, like Cherry Jones, don’t have all that much to do. That said, there’s an irritating quality to the early detours, including Jake’s run-in with gamblers (he finances his scheme by knowing the result of sporting events in advance) and his attempt to see if he can spare an older gent from the horrors inflicted by a brutal, murderous father (Josh Duhamel) in advance of the main event.

Perhaps foremost, Franco isn’t particularly well suited to the central role, coming across as less an Everyman than a chronically pained one, stumbling from one situation to the next. When Jake says to Al, “I just don’t think I’m the right guy for this,” by episode three or four, it’s hard to argue.

On the plus side, there are some fine supporting performances, including Sarah Gadon as the woman who wins Jake’s heart, George MacKay as the youth Jake enlists to help him, and especially Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald, mastering Oswald’s peculiar speech pattern and growing sense of paranoia – a mental state that Jake, ironically, helps agitate. And for those who don’t know the novel’s payoff, there is a fair amount of tension in the closing two chapters as they count down to the moment, even if those notes probably could have been played a couple hours sooner.

A larger issue, frankly, has to do with adapting King, whose work, with a few notable exceptions (“The Dead Zone,” which contains some similar overtones, comes to mind), tends to be more compelling on the page than on the screen.

By that measure, “11.22.63” (which is being previewed at the Sundance Film Festival) fits pretty neatly within the canon of King’s TV output, streaming or otherwise. And while the project isn’t entirely satisfying, its President’s Day premiere should be a very big date, indeed, when it comes to determining, looking ahead, how much subscribers can ask of Hulu.

TV Review: '11.22.63'

(Series; Hulu, Feb. 15)

Production

Filmed in Ontario, Canada and Dallas by Carpenter B. and Bad Robot in association with Warner Bros. Television.

Crew

Executive producers, J.J. Abrams, Stephen King, Bridget Carpenter, Bryan Burk, Kevin Macdonald; co-executive producers, Brian Nelson, Quinton Peeples, Kathy Lingg; producers, Joseph Boccia, James Franco; director, Macdonald (; writer, Carpenter; based on the novel by King; camera, David Katznelson; production designer, Carol Spier; music, Alex Heffes; casting, April Webster, Erica Silverman Bream. 82 MIN.

Cast

James Franco, Chris Cooper, Josh Duhamel, Lucy Fry, Sarah Gadon, Cherry Jones, T.R. Knight, George MacKay, Daniel Webber, Kevin J. O’Connor, Nick Searcy

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 13

Leave a Reply

13 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. BunnyLuv Mac says:

    Love James Franco. I think he’s doing a great job here. He’s not your typical white-washed “Everyman”. He’s got layers, substance, passion and artistry. The whole cast is perfect as far as I’m concerned. The story is fascinating. The only gripe I have is the leaps the storyline takes. One minute it’s still 1960, the next it’s 1962. Did he and the young guy live together all those years? It doesn’t seem like it and yet the story leaps to make it appear so. Not a fan of the violence either. The threat of violence holds more tension than acting it out in gory detail. Too lazy. Too much of a cheat. And there’s just too much of it in TV and film these days. I get bored / repulsed and leave the room thereby missing some bits. Tell the story. No bloody fillers please. Other than that though I find it compelling.

  2. Brock says:

    King sure has gotten lazy in his old age. Does he really need to steal ideas from other movies? This time-travel story to Kennedy’s assassination is nothing new. Don’t believe me? Check out the movies “Running Against Time (1990)” and “Timequest (2000)” on IMDb. I find it sad that Mr. King can no longer think for yourself.

    • Ellie Freckles says:

      King actually wrote a lot of this in the 70’s. He had the basic story outlined. But then decided to shelve it, because it was too painful to make a story about JFK at the time. A smart move. The nation was devastated by his death, and telling a “fairy tale” story about it not happening, probably wouldn’t have been the best move.

      There are old interviews with King talking about going to the 80s even. So that comes before the film’s you listed. It’s also a pointless affair, seeing as with billions on earth, it’s very rare for a single idea to be original. Someone will eventually come up with something 1:1 the same as what you came up with. It’s almost always about beating everyone to the punch. OR doing the best version of it, and making it unique with your own version of it.

    • Brock says:

      “Himself”.

  3. Just another fake story that Oswald did it,nobody bought the book and even fewer people will watch this phony baloney show.

    • Jay says:

      You are correct. This is a fictional series about time travel.

    • cadavra says:

      Yeah, that’s why it was on the New York Times’ Hardcover Best-Seller list for four months, including several weeks at #1, because nobody bought it. The only fake story here is yours.

  4. stevenkovacs says:

    Loved the book, though for the movie I hope the middle third was condensed! I’m be watching!

  5. I wish someone would have gone back in time and killed Ted Kennedy first and saved us decades of shame and insanity.

    • sammyglick says:

      Hopefully, the same time traveler can get rid of you as well, since last I checked, Bobby Galinsky didn’t do much to advance society or help those in need.

      • Carl White says:

        Guess Joi does not see the irony in her comment. But if it was not for negative, useless, small-minded off-topic posts on the Internet, how would we all know that no matter how insecure and negative we feel about our own humanity, it could always be worse.

      • joi karen says:

        @sammyglick thank you for your above comment as i am still shocked by the number of people who wish harm upon others. your comment is right on target. thank you again.

  6. brown says:

    James Franco is overrated.

More TV News from Variety

Loading