One of the key phrases to remember from Hulu’s first season of the Stephen King adaptation 11.22.63 comes from Academy Award-winner Chris Cooper.
Advising Jake Epping (James Franco) on how to go about attempting to stop the assassination of J.F.K., Al Templeton ( Cooper) warns Epping, “The past doesn’t want to be changed. Sometimes you’ll feel it pushing back. If you do something that f—ks with the past, the past will f—k with you.”
Now, at least in the first three episodes of 11.22.63, this word of warning seems less imperative than Templeton would make it sound. For emphasizing the Butterfly Effect in so much detail, 11.22.63 seems to adhere to its own time-travel rules pretty loosely. It’s difficult for the viewer to continue to go along with the program when its inconsistencies seem so apparent in so many scenes. The show even seems to establish a temporal consciousness—that is, a willful time that can be angered by Epping’s. So, while 11.22.63 has set up an abided-by adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling novel, it either needs to deviate from the looseness of King’s rules or better define its own concept of time travel in the next few episodes.
11.22.63 follows Epping, an English teacher from 2016 who is offered the chance to go back in time and stop the assassination of J.F.K. Epping’s longtime buddy, Templeton, has found a wormhole he can travel back and forth between that connects the modern world with the 1960s. Templeton does a lot of research in the ’60s, but is stricken with cancer on one of treks back in the past. He leaves the task of saving Kennedy in Epping’s hands, giving him all of his research on Lee Harvey Oswald and Oswald’s possible network of connections with the CIA. Templeton charges Epping with proving that Oswald is either working with the CIA or on his own behalf. Saving J.F.K., Templeton believes, will protect both Kennedy brothers and potentially end the possibility of the Vietnam War.
As a period piece, 11.22.63 is actually pretty good. It does a nice job of balancing emblematic aesthetics of the time with a rather conservative perspective on the era itself. People don’t appear overly innocent or naive, as they often do in other time-travel TV shows or movies. The jokes made for the sake of time travel actually aren’t cheesy or overdone (“Man I could really use a mini-bar right now”). The show’s developers have also selected a fitting and unique soundtrack for 11.22.63. Each episode has had several hits from the late ’50s and early ’60s that haven’t been featured in any other notable shows or movies. Songs like Etta James’ “Strange Things Happening” and Vernon Green & The Medallions’ “59 Volvo” provide brief respites from the show’s usually dark tone, while further promoting the genuine essence of 11.22.63.
This could also be considered one of James Franco’s best performances. Franco often has trouble separating his personality from his roles, or at least his characters never give him the chance or range to. Jake Epping is a conflicted, depressed man who is finally given the chance to do something he considers worthwhile. He wanders through the ’60s cautiously at times and recklessly when he sees a goal in sight. He’s not a flawless hero, but rather a man out to do good, both on a grand scale and for the people he meets in his travels. Franco’s actual energetic demeanor is lessened to some extent to fit the role, and he pulls this transition off nicely.
Stephen King’s story is not without its flaws. The show’s concept of time and the consequences of tampering with the past seem strictly outlined, yet vaguely and loosely executed. Going forward, the program needs to show that these small interactions that Epping thinks are inconsequential to the future will have large effects down the road. With only four episodes left before the end of the show’s run, a lot needs to happen in a brief period of time for there to be any real closure or believability for 11.22.63.
Hulu’s choice to only release one episode of 11.22.63 a week is intriguing, considering that Hulu’s main opponent, Netflix, always drops full seasons of its exclusive shows on its audience at a time. Nevertheless, 11.22.63 is a captivating program that undoubtedly has viewers waiting in serious anticipation of the next week’s episode.
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