There is nothing like the fixation of a kid. I think parents today can agree with that when they are watching Frozen for the n-teenth time, or trying to wash an article of clothing that has been worn every day for a month. This graduates into boy bands, which for my generation meant head-sized buttons of various members of New Kids on the Block pinned all over jean jackets and vests. I think my parents could have only dreamed of something so normal, but instead they got me.
My childhood obsession was the Kennedy assassination. I was a weird kid.
Those who know me as a weird adult are probably not that surprised. My dad was a bit of an enabler for this, talking theories, letting me stay up past my bedtime to finish cable channel documentaries, buying me books, planning a family trip to Dallas; my mom spent a few years perpetually rolling her eyes, which she still does every time I bring it up. So when it comes to Kennedy assassination fiction and non-fiction, books, TV shows, movies (JFK twice in the theatre), I am fairly well versed in the genre, and always excited to add to my random “expertise.”
Full disclosure: if I had known 11.22.63 was a book, I would have read it first. I missed that memo though, so here I go, even though the book is always, always better (except for 50 Shades of Grey).
In 2016, in Lisbon, Maine, Jake Epping (James Franco) enters a TARDIS in the closet of his friend’s diner that transports him back to October 21, 1960. The episode is called Rabbit Hole, but I prefer thinking that the Doctor and the TARDIS are somehow camping in the diner closet as opposed to a late white rabbit. Call it a personal preference.
Jake's friend, the always brilliant Chris Cooper, explains the rules: no matter how much time you spend in the past, only two minutes pass in 2016. And every time you enter the TARDIS you go back to October 21, 1960, and everything you did during the prior visit resets. Chris Cooper wanted to stop the Kennedy assassination, which would somehow butterfly to no Vietnam War and a more perfect union today.
This explanation was a little tenuous to me, but I do not have the personal demons of a Vietnam veteran.
For spoilery reasons Chris Cooper cannot complete this mission, and implores Jake to continue on with all of the information he gathered during his prior visits to the past. Jake, fresh off signing his divorce papers and burying his dad, acquiesces.
The past brings us James Franco sans scruffy goatee, so I already like it. The first few scenes were so typically Franco that I had flashbacks to Never Been Kissed and Whatever It Takes (holy crap, James Franco was in Never Been Kissed!--MC), and not in a good way. Jake makes his way to Dallas to start positioning for changing the future/past, but as Chris Cooper warned, the past doesn’t like to be changed. It strikes back in minor, and then major ways, and a shattered Jake finds himself reassessing his mission, and the potential tragedies of the next three years as he works towards this end.
I love the ambiance of Stephen King’s writing, and that shows like Haven (a personal favorite) and 11.22.63 work to bring that slight, surreal tinge to the screen, the not-quite-normal undercurrent that keeps you fully concentrating on the minute details, because who knows when they may reappear. This isn’t an on-in-the-background show, especially in the first two episodes, which detour away from the plot that the previews promote.
In the second episode Jake finds himself positioned to right a wrong from his 2016 life, and his interactions surrounding this decision drive his character forward, but not the Kennedy story. James Franco gives an amazing performance, especially when he is listening to others. I am not a huge Franco fan, but in this setting his perfectly practiced micro-expressions are spot on. At first during this episode I was tempted to call it a throwaway, and if I wasn’t so excited about Dallas, November 1963, I might have turned it off.
But the supporting cast performances are worth the entire watch, and the ending reveals a Jake much better equipped to move forward; even though it might not be his decision alone to do so.
Since Jake is in the past, Chris Cooper is confined to flash-backs (flash-forwards?). He is so good that I always want more, and to see him outside of his tour guide role. Josh Duhamel is more successful than Franco at ditching his high school hunk past and is genuinely creepy, albeit with perfect hair. Credits list T.R. Knight who has not appeared yet, but I’m hopeful and eager for a Franco interaction. Franco is best in this series when he is confronted with people whose motivations he is trying to process.
I’m writing this while starting Episode 3, which is still set in 1960. I’m waiting for the time jump which I assume is coming, as there are only 8 episodes. I’m waiting for the introduction of the historical characters that I know, and the conspiracy theories I love to debate. I’m waiting for Chris Cooper to reappear in the past, though that is completely against the rules of the TARDIS. I will keep watching until the end, and right now it is for more than just seeing Stephen King’s take on Oswald, the grassy knoll, and the assassination conspiracies, though that definitely helps. Right now I’m eager for more interaction with new characters, and hopefully old ones, and a main character whose decisions surprise me. That doesn’t happen often.
The first five episodes of 11.22.63 are streaming on Hulu. A new episode is available every Monday.