By: Mike Reistetter
Stephen King is to the supernatural, horror, mystery, and science fiction genres as monkeys are to bananas. His most innate abilities give meaningfulness and purpose to his two most important benefactors: His audience, who continue to buy novel after novel from King, and his connections in the industry, who have on numerous occasions guided King towards having his work transposed onto the screen in transcendent fashion.
The author, who has pumped out bestsellers for five decades now, has dipped his ink into the television business quite a few times, yet not with nearly as much success as with his film adaptations, like iMDb’s # 1-rated film The Shawshank Redemption or the subtext-heavy horror mystery The Shining.
But no television adaptation of King’s work has ever revealed as much upside potential and promise as Hulu’s Original Series, 11.22.63, based extensively off of the 2011 King novel of the same name.
11.22.63 follows Jake Eppley, played by Academy Award-nominee James Franco (127 Hours, Pineapple Express, This Is The End), a recently divorced English teacher who inherits a fascinatingly secret time-bending “rabbit hole” from his friend Al Templeton, played by Academy Award-winner Chris Cooper (American Beauty, Adaptation). Al, who discovered the portal entry within a storage closet of the diner he owns, is fixated on the belief that using the portal to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 would also evade the chain of events leading to the United States’ participation in the Vietnam War, and every subsequent war thereafter.
Jake, having just divorced his wife, feels no real dedication or attachment to his current life in contemporary society. After initial reluctance, Jake agrees to follow in his ailing friend’s footsteps, and carry out Al’s mission. Once in 1960, Jake, under the alias Jake Amberson, must persevere and remain faithful to his friend’s insistence about not “breaking the rules.” For if he tries to change the past too quickly without thinking of the consequences, “the past will push back.”
With this eight-part mini-series, Franco assumes a role he has often avoided, the “everyman,” and plays it ever so brilliantly. Franco makes his character easy to sympathize with on various occasions. Jake is a man who had a time traveling expedition literally fall straight into his lap. And what does he do once he is fully committed to “the plan?” He finds the first opportunity to, essentially procrastinate, choosing to save the family of a future student of his from trauma and tragedy, instead of the globally daunting endeavor he was originally commissioned to assess. This speaks volumes of his immediately relatable character, capable of evoking timeless qualities of both heroism and bravery. Anyone can change the past to stop the world. But if time-travel were a logistically plausible action to partake in, would not just about everyone in the world dedicate a significant portion of their “trip” to helping out a friend, in a matter completely unrelated to the main task at-hand?
11.22.63 is a reminder of why Stephen King can dip his hand into just about any field, and turn flavorless water into bona fide wine. It also demonstrates why King and JJ Abrams, AKA the justified puppeteer marvelously controlling the current flow of mass entertainment, should collaborate more often.
Five episodes in, I am extremely grateful for finally ending my grudge against Hulu, purchasing my very own account earlier this week. King’s words have undergone the visual treatment yet again, in an exciting and emotionally gripping way. I am proud to now consider myself a weekly viewer of an unlikely “TV” goldmine.
New episodes are available to stream each Monday, with the eighth and final episode of the mini-series set to air on April 4.