×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘11.22.63’

With:
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

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

More Digital

  • The Simpsons

    Disney Plus Will Make 'The Simpsons' Available in Original Uncropped Format in Early 2020

    Eep! After an outcry from “The Simpsons” aficionados, Disney has decided to offer classic episodes of the iconic animated sitcom on Disney Plus in their original 4-by-3 aspect ratio early next year. The streaming service launched Nov. 12 in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands with the full batch of “Simpsons” episodes in 16-by-9 HD [...]

  • Verizon Stream TV

    Stream TV Review: Verizon’s New Streaming Device Is One Odd Duck

    Verizon has an answer to Roku, but it’s not talking much about it: The mobile carrier quietly released a new streaming device this week that promises to bring services like HBO, Hulu and YouTube to your TV. Dubbed Stream TV, the device is a solid streamer based on Google’s Android TV platform, albeit with a [...]

  • Hulu With Live TV Full Channel

    Hulu Hiking Price of Live TV Service 22%, to $55 per Month

    Hulu is implementing its second price increase in less than a year for its Hulu With Live TV product — with the base package of 60-plus live channels increasing 22%, to $54.99 per month. The price hike on the monthly base price of Hulu With Live TV will go into effect Dec. 18 for all [...]

  • Hulu With Live TV

    Hulu Live TV Tops Sling TV as No. 1 Streaming Pay-TV Service, Analysts Estimate

    Hulu With Live TV has edged out Dish Network’s Sling TV to take the crown as the biggest virtual pay-television service in the U.S., according to new analyst estimates. They were among the only winners amid the cord-cutting carnage that slashed through the sector in the third quarter. As of the end of the third [...]

  • Mubi India

    Mubi Launches Two VoD Channels in India

    Film specialist streaming platform Mubi launched on Friday in India with two channels, Mubi India and Mubi World. The channels are available together for an introductory offer of INR 199 ($2.75) for three months. Thereafter the channels will cost INR 499 ($7) a month or INR 4788 ($66.75) annually. For Mubi India, a channel dedicated [...]

  • U.K. Producer Barcroft Studios Sold to

    U.K.-Based Producer Barcroft Studios Sold to Future in $30 Million Deal

    Barcroft Studios has been bought by Future in a £23.5 million ($30.1 million) deal. The U.K.-based production outfit specializes in factual fare for channels and platforms, and its own branded channels on the likes of YouTube. Future is a U.K.-listed print and online publishing and events business. Sam Barcroft will stay on as CEO at [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content