11.22.63 is the 84th adaption of King’s work from book to screen. I’ll say that again- 84th, going all the way back to the 70s. That number climbs to 88 if you include up and coming ventures Cell, It, The Mist and the eagerly anticipated Dark Tower.
So 11.22.63’s a small part of a big machine, but one of the better parts with great production value and a performance by James Franco (The Interview) which I’ll admit I was looking forward to slating, but Franco manages to come across as the hapless Jake Epping with a strong sense of genuineness and sincerity.
Epping is a newly divorced English teacher living in Maine who, through his friend Al Templeton (Chris Cooper- Bourne Identity/ The Kingdom), is presented the opportunity to travel back in time through a portal hidden in a closet in the back of Templeton’s diner and prevent the assignation of John F Kennedy. When Epping’s finally convinced to walk through the portal he disappears into darkness and reappears in squeaky-clean nostalgic 1960s Maine.
The two-hour long opening episode focuses largely on Epping’s struggles to acclimatize having been thrust into an era so different to his own in 2016 New England. It also introduces the viewer to the idea of ‘time pushing back’. Naturally in all time travelling stories the idea of changing the past leads to catastrophic events in the present. King handles this idea with great entertainment making time fight back against the course of history being altered. In Jake’s attempts to track down Lee Harvey Oswald (found guilty of the assassination of Kennedy) he’s faced with sudden unexpected ‘disasters’ happening to him- catching a flu, getting bit by spiders, having his boarding house and all his possessions burn down.
As with King, the whole concept’s original having been patiently nurtured in the basement of his mind. And because of this originality producers continually return to his work. King’s openly admitted he doesn’t like his stories translated to film as he says the medium of cinema with its 2-hour time limit gives little room for his craft to be fully appreciated (apparently he intensely dislikes Kubrick’s translation of his famous thriller The Shining.)
TV on the other hand gives producers and actors more time to develop. 11.22.63 is still told at one hell of a pace (the book’s 849 pages) but it leaves a relatively consistent trail of breadcrumbs to get the viewer interested then hooked.
As the series rolls on one of the cornerstones of the premise, the jarring of different eras, really becomes apparent and creates powerful conflict between Epping’s 2016 ideals and the ideals of the 60s. The treatment of both the African American secretary at the school he works in in Jodie and his lover’s trials in getting a divorce from her previous marriage are two tropes that stick out like two excruciatingly painful thumbs.
And like I said, as for Franco, I did so want to slate him, but the quality of his performance makes me support Epping in his quest to save the greatest President America never had and alter the course of history forever. Just don’t let me see him trying to dance at a school disco again.
Dir: Kevin Macdonald, Fred Toye, James Strong
Scr: Steven King Bridgette Carpenter, Quinton Peebles
Cast: James Franco, Chris Cooper, Sarah Gadon, George MacKay
Prd: JJ Abrams, Steven King
Run time: six 1 hour episodes and two 2 hour episodes
11.22.63, Sundays at 10pm on FOX