Time traveling with Stephen King: A “11/22/63” review

BY BJ DARDEN

Staff Writer

Adapted from the Stephen King novel, “11/22/63” is Hulu’s newest foray into serious drama television. The show is a big ticket item for Hulu as King’s time travel novel is both hugely beloved and popular. “11/22/63” is an eight-episode mini-series that premiered in February.

Unlike Hulu’s competitors (did somebody say Netflix?), “11/22/63” was not released all at once, but rather once a week over an eight week period. It is like the olden days all over again.

Ignoring the frustratingly slow release schedule, the show does its job admirably, by offering an eerie and mysterious view into 1960’s America.

For fans of the book, the set up to the show is practically the same across both mediums. For newcomers, Jake Epping, played by James Franco, is a modern man living in Maine (fans of King should not be surprised by this now). Epping is a good-hearted, night-school teacher who comes into contact with a man named Al.

Al is the owner of a local diner who discovers a portal in his restaurant that takes him to the year 1960. You can go through the portal at will, but whenever anyone goes through, the actions of the previous journey are erased. Al has been working to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy (for the good of the world), but a bout with cancer has put a hold on those plans.

Al knows Epping personally and offers him the chance to finish what he started. At first reluctant, Epping eventually takes the job seeing that he has the opportunity to save the lives of one of his student’s family.

The show works well even within its crazy premise. It would have been easy to poke fun at just how ridiculous everything going on in the show is (time travel, conspiracies, the supernatural). The show never takes the bait though, and plays everything straight, with Epping being a fish out of water.

By saying the show plays it straight, it definitely also means things can get pretty mature. “11/22/63” does not shy away from gore or strong language. A surprising amount of the show calls for some intense moments. It is not a distraction, seeing as this is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, but if you have any problems with that kind of content, maybe this show is not for you.

“11/22/63” lays on the “Twilight Zone” influences pretty heavy, dealing with the philosophical and ethical ramifications of time travel. How much control do we really have? Can we change history for the better? What are the results of wielding that kind of power?

“11/22/63” can almost be viewed as an extended “Twilight Zone” episode. Its zany, old-school sci-fi that also works in the big picture. It is never afraid to get weird and once the show gets going, the show’s main mystery will keep the viewer patiently waiting for the next big clue.

Waiting for the next big clue is definitely in the running for the show’s mantra.

King’s novel is spread out over nearly 900 pages, so it is easy to see why the natural reaction would be to turn it into a miniseries. However, the show has trouble translating certain aspects from the novel into the show. “11/22/63” may have a perfect form in a two-and-a-half hour or three-hour movie, but as a miniseries it has some problems with dragging its feet.

Franco as Epping is a fine piece of casting. It is not particularly inspired, but he is able to fit the character well and he does not look too out of place in the 1960’s. Much of the same could be said for the rest of the cast. They are all just fine. No one is going to be blown away, but does anybody need to be? The show pretty much lives and dies by its execution.

Luckily the execution works. It is fun but also serious, never overly so, managing to achieve a nice balancing act. However, the need to apply filler throughout the show is disappointing, at times feeling like the show is striving to do something even weirder but is being held back by TV tropes.

If you are a fan of the book, “11/22/63” has enough new material and King-material to keep you around. If you are looking for something in the same vein as “Twilight Zone” you will also walk away happy. After the abomination that was “Under the Dome,” “11/22/63” does enough to justify its own existence, and then a little more.

The Flyer gives “11/22/63” a 7/10.

 

 

 

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