The Past Fights Back
One of my favorite books of the last decade is 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Beyond a few short stories here and there, and his novella Cycle of the Werewolf (filmed as Silver Bullet in 1985), I had never actually read a King novel. This was not a purposeful choice mind you; I have just never read a lot of horror fiction. 11/22/63 was something different though — it was a time travel story about stopping the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Now this was something right up my alley.
11/22/63 was so much better than I imagined it would be. What could have easily been a fairly run of the mill time travel story was turned into something totally different by King. It is most certainly a great time travel adventure, but it is also well researched historical fiction with a very human romance thrown in for good measure. Oh yeah, and it’s quite suspenseful to boot.
So when I found out that J.J. Abrams, along with the help of King himself, would be producing an eight-episode miniseries version of the book (to be broadcast on Hulu) I was excited to say the least. The miniseries, with the ever so slightly changed title of 11.22.63, debuted aptly enough on President’s Day. So how is it so far? Well, let me tell you.
Episode 1 – The Rabbit Hole
Jake Epping (James Franco) is a high school teacher in small town Maine who is going through a divorce. In an adult education class, Harry Dunning (Leon Rippy) reads a story about the day that changed his life. This day was October 31, 1960, the day that Harry’s alcoholic father killed his mother and siblings. Jake is moved by the story and is still reflecting on it as he signs his divorce papers at his friend Al Templeton’s (Chris Cooper) diner the next day.
After Jake’s wife leaves, Al comes from out of the kitchen looking visibly older than he did just a couple of minutes before. Along with his out of nowhere aging, Al is also incredibly sick. Al tells Jake to leave not wanting to explain the aging and sickness, but promises him that he will tell him the next day. And tell him he does.
Al’s diner holds a secret, and that secret is a portal or “rabbit hole” as Al calls it. The “rabbit hole” leads to 1960. No matter how long a person stays on the other side, in our time only two minutes transpire. Al tells Jake that he had actually been gone for several years the previous day, and that he had been diagnosed with cancer. This is why he appeared to age and become sick so quickly.
Eventually, Al convinces Jake to go through the “rabbit hole” to find out for himself. Jake is flabbergasted to say the least, but he is even more taken aback at what Al wants him to do; go back in time and stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Overall the first episode (written by show-runner Bridget Carpenter and directed by Kevin MacDonald) is very promising. Although not who I would have imagined playing the part of Jake Epping (Jake Amberson in the 1960’s), James Franco does a very good job in the role. He pulls off the kind of cynical modern day Jake, as well as the in awe Jake of the past. His performance will definitely be the center-point of the series, so it’s good that he is comfortable in the role.
Chris Cooper is also very good in the part of Al. Although a smaller role, Al is the person who whole story pivots on. If it wasn’t for him and his strange portal-containing restaurant, none of this would be happening.
“The Rabbit Hole” does a really good job of setting up the past as well. The look of the show is great and the freedom of the format Hulu allows probably allowed for a larger budget than a normal TV mini-series. This helps out in all facets of the production.
Although the show has already changed a few things about the book, most notably the year that the episode’s titular “rabbit hole” spits a person out (from 1958 to 1960), the major plot points are all present and accounted for. Even an eight episode mini-series will have trouble cramming in all the details of a 900 page book, so changes are to be expected.
All in all, 11.22.63 is shaping up to be a successful adaptation, and a series that should be accessible to fans of the book and newcomers alike. If you are a Stephen King fan, like time-travel stories, historical fiction, love stories, thrillers, or just enjoy James Franco, then 11.22.63 might be for you. Just remember; the past is obdurate.
Until next time…