TV Review: 11.22.63 (Sundance)

PLOT: An English teacher (James Franco) stumbles upon a time portal that takes him back to 1960, where he tries to prevent the November 22nd, 1963 JFK assassination from ever happening.

REVIEW: Considering how much of an influence 11.22.63 executive producer J.J Abrams has always said Stephen King was, it’s fitting that Bad Robot is the company behind one of the most ambitious adaptations of a King novel in years. When I was a kid, TV miniseries based on the King books were a yearly treat, with many having been directed by Mick Garris. TV Miniseries like THE STAND, THE TOMMYKNOCKERS, IT and more were always appointment viewing for me. It’s nice that with TV having such an amazing creative resurgence that Hulu is breaking into TV drama with a miniseries of their own, and if you’re going to adapt something with mass appeal, you can’t do better than Stephen King.

Clearly the company is bullish on 11.22.63, with the first two episodes making their debut at a gala Sundance screening. With the show slated to run an additional six episodes, this eight hour King adaptation should be able to squeeze in all the plot and character work he’s famous for, and the first two episodes move along at a thoughtful, character-driven pace.

James Franco is our lead, and while JoBlo.com readers seem to have a love/hate relationship with the actor, he seems ideally cast. The fact that’s he’s so modern and trendy works well as his character, Jake Epping, really is supposed to be a fish-out-of-water, for whom 1960’s America is an alien place he doesn’t belong in. Franco seems to be on autopilot a bit during the modern-day segments, but once he heads into the sixties he’s pitch perfect, from his casual use of profanity which shocks proper sixties folks (being an Hul it’s loaded with F-bombs) to his amusement at campaign logos of the time, such as Nixon’s old slogan, “you can’t lick this Dick.”

While the vibe initially starts off as playful, show-runner Bridget Carpenter occasionally throws in reminders to the darker side of the era, such as a bit where Franco visits Dallas and is shocked by racially segregated bathrooms. While rather light on horror for a King work, some ghoulish bits are sprinkled-in, with the idea that the closer Franco gets to changing history, the more time will push back by some FINAL DESTINATION style accidents that rack up a lot of collateral damage among his sixties friends.

The only problem with showing just two episodes of the show is that it’s hard to get a real handle on how the show is going to play-out, with important characters, such as Sarah Gadon as the love interest and Josh Duhamel as a baddie, only getting quick intros. As such Franco carries both episodes entirely, with sporadic help from Chris Cooper as his time-traveling mentor.

One disappointing thing about 11.22.63 is that despite the involvement of film directors like Kevin McDonald with the direction, it looks distinctly like TV. It has a kind of a bland, network look that pales to the way things are shot on premium cable or Netflix. There are also commercial breaks, which seemed so strange watching this theatrically but shouldn’t be too much of a problem at home. On the plus side, the show sports a really good score by composer Alex Heffes (McDonald’s go-to guy) and nice use of period music.

While it’s too early to tell whether Hulu’s 11.22.63 is going to really make the service’s name as a premium provider of TV drama, the show certainly gets off to a promising start. It’s not on the level of something like Fargo, but what it? After only two episodes, I’m all-in. Bring on the next six hours.

Extra Tidbit: 11.22.63 premieres February 15th.
Source: JoBlo.com



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