| August 11, 2016

Two things that invariably draw me to a piece of film or television are the inclusion of time travel as a narrative device and the attachment of Stephen King’s name to a project. So it was only a matter of time then (no pun intended, truly) before I marathon-viewed the J.J. Abrams-produced Hulu original event series, 11.22.63 (2016), based on the time travel thriller novel by Stephen King. Starring James Franco, Sarah Gadon and Chris Cooper, 11.22.63 is perfect binge-watching: tense, engrossing, and short enough at eight episodes to be devoured over the course of a single, lazy weekend.

In the series’ feature-length opener, Al (Cooper) informs English teacher Jake Epping (Franco) of the existence of “the rabbit hole,” a closet in the back of Al’s diner that transports whoever enters it back to the year 1960. Al passes along the responsibility of this miraculous time travel cupboard to Jake, challenging Jake with the task of using it to prevent JFK’s assassination on 11/22/63. Reluctantly, Jake accepts, and he soon finds himself in the 1960s not only trying to solve the JFK assassination conspiracy as it unfolds, but also starting a new life with new friends and loves.

This is no simple espionage affair mixed with light melodramatic elements as the above might indicate though. Because King doesn’t abandon the science fiction element once Jake goes back in time. To that end, Jake’s worries aren’t limited merely to crossing paths with Lee Harvey Oswald or the CIA in his search for the truth. Time itself is out to stop Jake! The closer he gets to interfering with the course of events, the more the past throws in his way—everything from illnesses and dead car batteries to a jealous, bloodthirsty ex. It’s an incredibly clever narrative device that keeps the excitement high throughout, never knowing quite what obstacle will stand in his way.

Adding further tension to the series is the romantic relationship Jake finds himself involved in with school librarian, Sadie (Gadon). Though some will no doubt view this element of the narrative as sappy or sentimental, it’s exactly the sort of thing that appeals to me personally. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a sentimental love story, especially when it’s used to highlight the tension of an otherwise exciting science fiction thriller!

Admittedly, the execution of the series finale is a bit sloppy, feeling a bit rushed and leaving certain motivations and explanations unsatisfactorily unexplored. But this complaint is minor in the overall scope of this otherwise successfully entertaining event series. If the show has any major shortcoming it’d be that, at times, Franco’s Jake is really hard to read. I’d watch him react to something but have no idea what was going on in his head. Usually you can guess at these things based on your knowledge of the character, but there are a few moments where Jake looks so distant or perplexed that it’s hard to tell if he’s fully grasping the information around him. And I don’t mean to say he looks dumb, though I know that’s probably how this reads. It’s just that, as an audience member, there were moments in which I found it nearly impossible to relate to him, which of course takes you out of the moment.

Still, 11.22.63 is a series I highly recommend. Honestly, if the basic premise of the series sounds interesting to you at all, you’re at least guaranteed an interesting watch. That is, unless you’re some kind of JFK assassination expert and then you might find a heck of a lot of problems with the specific depiction of those events (though the series does attempt to use the time rebelling concept to explain any deviations therein, so maybe you’ll let it slide).

11.22.63 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. The only bonus feature included on the home video release is the featurette, “When the Future Fights Back,” featuring interviews with King, Abrams, and Franco talking about the adaptation and production of this event series.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
Filed in: TV on DVD

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