TV Series Review
If we could change one thing in the past, would we? Should we?
Jake Epping is determined to try. Due to a convenient wrinkle in the space-time continuum that shows up in a local diner closet, Jake has easy access to the fall of 1960. Hats and tailfins are in vogue. Slices of pie cost 60 cents. There's a tight election race underway between Vice President Richard Nixon and the young Senator John F. Kennedy.
All we know of that turbulent decade is still to come—the assassinations, the wars, the social upheavals. The future is a slate unwrit. Or so it would seem.
Al Templeton, Jake's longtime friend and owner of the diner, spent his life trying to change the past—to prevent the assassination of JFK. Al believed preventing that one death could save thousands of others'. Maybe even change the world. Save John's life, and his brother Robert stays alive, too. The Vietnam War never escalates. The U.S. retains the promise it once had and bounces toward the 21st century with buoyant optimism. That's the thought, anyway. So when he succumbs to cancer, he passes the diner keys over to Jake and gives him the same quixotic quest.
But the past is a stubborn thing. It does not take change kindly, and when someone tries, it pushes back—hard. The bigger the change, the harder the push, and it seems that with each life saved, another must be spent. Perhaps the past will not allow Jake to rewrite world history, he begins to wonder. But someone's personal history? A little favor for a broken friend? Perhaps it will acquiesce to that.
Based on a book by Stephen King, produced in part by Hollywood golden boy J.J. Abrams and starring James Franco, 11.22.63 is Hulu's highest-profile show to date. This eight-episode series is a high-gloss effort, with King's words working, in some ways, better in this small-screen serialization than in his movies, which tend to be hit-or-miss affairs. Here, his neatly crafted characters and built-in cliffhangers make for a near-perfect miniseries match.
Alas, King's compulsive "tune in next week" narrative abilities stand in stark contrast to the crude content he ladles into his books and, by extension, the films and TV shows based on them. And while CBS' surprisingly long-lasting series Under the Dome (also based on a King book) managed to throttle things back enough to be allowed on broadcast television, Hulu has no such restraints. Blood flows easily and often, staining the story's supposedly more innocent time. Sexual trysts are, if not core to the story, still a threat in every episode. Obscenities gravitate toward the f- and s-word variety.
The Dead Zone
A show like 11.22.63 would, in terms of its story and sci-fi vibe, feel right at home in 1960s—what with The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents in full swing back then. I'd venture to say that Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock, given the space and time, could have brought this show to life as effectively as J.J. Abrams and his team does for Hulu.
And, to be honest, I really would have liked to see what that looked like. Because they would have culled out most of that "extra" (read: unneeded) content, preserving the story and the vibe without smearing us with grime.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
James Franco as Jake Epping; Sarah Gadon as Sadie Dunhill; Cherry Jones as Marquerite Oswald; Lucy Fry as Marina Oswald; George MacKay as Bill Turcotte; Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald; T.R. Knight as Johnny Clayton; Josh Duhamel as Frank Dunning; Chris Cooper as Al Templeton