11.22.63 (Hulu) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Feb 15, 2016 Web Exclusive
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There are two kinds of Stephen King mini-series: It and all the other ones.

Thanks largely to judicious edits of the novel and ingenious casting choices, the eight-hour broadcast of Itmore than two decades old at this pointmanaged to shave the extraneous bits of a 1,100-page novel into a compelling coming-of-age horror story that still mostly holds up. On the other hand, when was the last time you re-watched The Langoliers or The Tommyknockers?

Itself clocking in at more than 800 pages, 11.22.63 would seem a perfect candidate for serialization, particularly in the hands of executive producer J.J. Abrams and on a binge-ready platform like Hulu. What we get, on the other hand, is a muddled adaptation that rarely catches fire and never really captures the imagination.

James Franco stars as Jake Epping, a recently divorced high school teacher who learns of a time portal in a local diner that will transport him back to the late 1950s. It sounds corny, butas with many of Stephen King’s most ridiculous conceptsit works. The diner’s owner, Al Templeton (Chris Cooper), convinces Jake to use the portal to travel back in time in order to stop the assassination of JFK in the hopes of preventing a domino effect that led to military escalation in Vietnam, Watergate, 9/11, and basically everything else that’s gone wrong in the world over the past 50 years.

Much of the first episode is spent introducing Jake and Al and setting up the plot, and Chris Cooper is one of the highlights of the series, even with minimal screen time. After all, no one plays a crotchety father figure like Cooper, and he’s the perfect actor to serve as the voice of authority in the story. From there Jake travels through time and begins investigating various theories about the assassinationnamely, whether or not taking out Lee Harvey Oswald will satisfy his mission or if Oswald was only one piece of a larger puzzle. But since the time portal will only deliver Jake to 1958, he’s got some time to kill, which allows for the introduction of plenty of complications, along with a love interest and equally well-loved period-specific details like vintage cars, juke boxes, whites-only facilities and more.

It’s in that middle period where 11.22.63 loses steam as an adaptation. In the novel the reader and Jake hash through extensive details pertaining to JFK’s assassination, but much of that detail is only touched on in the mini-series. That (along with a dull performance from Franco) leaves most of the focus on Jake’s romance and tailing Oswald, and things don’t really pick up again until the final few episodes.

For those who have read the novel, one of the most disappointing changes is the elimination of an early plotline that requires Jake to make multiple trips back in timea plot device which gives a better understanding of how the portal works and the consequences of using it. Plus, it’s a chance to see Jakenaturally skepticallearn the rules of what he’s working with.

Beyond that, however, the novel’s length allows for the creation of a narrative world that never fully takes shape in the miniseries, since TV requires faster pacing and can’t meander the way a book can. One of the pleasures of reading modern Stephen King is his ability to hide Easter eggs within the text and call back to his own work, such as a casual reference to Christine in 2014’s Mr. Mercedes or casually inserting It‘s Bill Denbrough briefly into the 11.22.63 novel.

On the other hand, 11.22.63 is one of King’s best books of the 2000s, along with Under the Dome, and it’s easy to imagine plenty of ways producers could’ve driven off the road and ruined the entire thing (such as CBS’ decision to make Under the Dome into a full-fledged series). But there’s enough substance to the novel that what’s left in the miniseries ends up feeling less like a truly successful adaptation and more like a sketch of a great one. (www.hulu.com/112263)

Author rating: 6/10

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