This is the time travel TV show you should be watching. James Franco and Chris Cooper in the adaptation of Stephen King’s novel.
11.22.63 takes its name from the date of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas and, just as pertinently, Stephen King’s book 11/22/63 upon which this mini-series is based. Produced by King and the ever-prolific J.J. Abrams, the show is written by noted playwright Bridget Carpenter, best known for her work on the TV show Friday Night Lights, for which she won many awards.
The series centres around James Franco as Jake Epping who, with nothing left to lose in his life, is shown a remarkable opportunity by Chris Cooper as diner owner and JFK fanatic Al Templeton. While the dying Al shows, proves and explains the portal to 1960 in his broom cupboard, we are treated to Franco and Cooper at the very top of their game. Nearly half an hour of screentime of this long pilot episode is largely the two of them talking, and this alone makes the show feel like it has feature film production values.
Al, dying of cancer, has a conviction: The world would be a better place and all wrongs righted, if the assassination of JFK had never taken place. He has a portal to 1960 in his diner, but it always takes him only to a specific date; and when he returns, only two minutes have passed. So, to avert the assassination he’d have to travel back to 1960 and travel forward the traditional way: one day at a time, for three years until 1963. But those are three years he no longer has. So, he convinces Jake instead and kits him out with a file of clues and instructions, and a sports almanac not dissimilar to Back to the Future 2’s Grey’s Sports Almanac.
When he does go back, the 60s nostalgia is rife: The music, the cars, the prices, ‘everything tastes better’. Not to mention the then acceptable racial segregation. And so Jake goes out to investigate the personae dramatis of the assassination, to make sense of the pieces of the puzzle before the big day. To make sure that when or if he stops it, he stops the right person.
Unfortunately, as Al continues to narrate for us throughout, “If you do something that really fucks with the past, the past fucks with you”. More extreme even than the ominously omnipresent Yellow Card Man forever telling Jake he shouldn’t be here, the past, anthropomorphised and conservative in its momentum and direction, keeps pushing back when there’s a chance that things might change. Death, carnage, destruction, all to keep the past from changing, for the future to remain as it is fated. Though it does unfortunately imply that King believed that there are people that are important to the paths of history, and the rest of us are mere bystanders that can be killed off without regard. Unimportant cannon-fodder for the ravages of the inertia of time.
While perhaps billed as a time travel story, this has the feel of a period mystery thriller, with a bit of present day anachronism thrown in; but that’s no bad thing, it allows us as viewers to relate to a time period and a political conspiracy that might otherwise leave us feeling a little out of our time. The show is well put-together, and I’m sure the inertia of time, the Yellow Card Man and the conspiracies of the 22nd of November, 1963 will keep the suspense up over the eight episodes.
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