What a trip! My mind is still going a hundred miles an hour! Just finished watching a series I’ve always wanted to see, but never got the chance to check out until today because I didn’t have Hulu. Thank goodness for free trials 😉
11.22.63 is a science fiction/time travel series starring James Franco as Jake Epping, a high school English teacher tasked by his friend, Al Templeton, with going back in time, and preventing the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I kind of cheated and watched the series before finishing the book, but I couldn’t help myself. This was good TV!
Most TV shows I’ve seen have to take an episode or two to build up and get rolling, but this one plunged me right into the action from the get go. Somehow, the pantry in Al Templeton’s diner is a time portal from 2016 to October 1960. And once Al shows Jake how to use the portal, it’s a race against the clock, and a fight against the past to save President Kennedy!
There were several strengths of the series, but I think the two strengths of the show that I noticed the most were:
1. The chemistry between James Franco, who played Jake, and Sarah Gadon, who played his love interest, Sadie Dunhill.
2. The ominous, faceless villain simply known as “The Past.”
First Class Acting
This was probably the main strength of the show in my opinion. Sarah Gadon really nailed Sadie’s personality: A classic, smart 60’s Texas woman who is an absolute sweetheart, but who most definitely does not put up with dishonesty. James Franco complemented her really well as Jake, particularly when Jake confronted Sadie’s abusive ex-husband Johnny Clayton. If you watch the show, you can just feel how much Jake loves Sadie and wants to protect her and be there for her. The chemistry between James Franco and Sarah Gadon was believable, and they worked really well together.
The supporting cast members were solid too, particularly Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald. This is the same actor that played both Lewis Wilson in the Netflix series The Punisher, and Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil in The Dirt. All three portrayals really demonstrate Webber’s range as an actor. He’s fantastic! As Vince, he’s the brash, cocky, hard-partying singer of one of the world’s biggest rock bands. As Lewis, he played a sad, genuinely sympathetic villain. A troubled veteran returning home from war with PTSD, who eventually snaps and becomes a terrorist that the Punisher has to hunt down.
But in 11.22.63 as Lee Harvey Oswald, he showed the instability of Oswald’s home life with his wife Marina and their children. Webber was also really skilled at recreating Oswald’s “eccentric loner” personality. I felt like this portrayal of Oswald wouldn’t really let the other characters approach him or get to know him. Something was definitely off mentally, which was the point. Somebody has to be a little messed up in the head if they’re going to even consider doing what Oswald did!
All in all though, the cast was solid. Loved the characters!
This was another great strength of 11.22.63, and classic Stephen King adapted to a movie or TV show if I ever saw it. In my eyes, “The Past” is the main villain of the show. It’s not a person or people. It’s more like a force of time and nature whose only goal is to stop Jake from saving President Kennedy and rewriting history by any means necessary.
Ever hear of Murphy’s Law, folks? The Past in 11.22.63 is like that on steroids. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Times a hundred. The closer Jake gets to changing history in a big way, the more obstacles The Past throws in his way. Like on his way to Dallas the morning of November 22, his car won’t start, so he has to hotwire somebody else’s car and steal it. But when he gets closer to Dealey Plaza to locate Oswald just minutes before the assassination, a car seemingly driven by no one barrels toward him and Sadie, and narrowly misses running them over as they run across the street to the depository!
Plus whenever Jake figures out the next step in his mission, there’s always something freaky that happens, like lights flickering ominously, or Jake hallucinating and seeing people who have died telling him directly, “You should not be here!” Plus a character named The Yellow Card Man often tells him those exact words at several points throughout the show, attempting to appeal to Jake’s emotions by telling him his own tragic stories of how he tried and failed to change history. The Yellow Card Man tries to get Jake to quit his mission, but he soldiers on.
What makes The Past an effective villain, is that viewers watching the show do not know when the next obstacle is going to pop up, or how severe it is going to be. People are already engrossed in Jake’s race against time to save JFK. Now they also have to look out for an unpredictable, extremely malevolent force that can pop up anywhere, anytime and take any form. 11.22.63 is definitely a thriller thanks to The Past!
Okay, I know 11.22.63 is science fiction, and we may never figure out time travel in real-life. But I can’t wrap my head around how Jake saving JFK leads to a nuclear apocalypse. That would be like me going back in time, helping the 1986 Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl, and coming back to World War III or something crazy like that in 2020 as a result of changing history. I just don’t see what Stephen King was attempting to get at here, or how things were connected to produce a result THAT drastic.
Perhaps he was using “The Butterfly Effect.” The Butterfly Effect is basically a science fiction device that says for every action by the time traveler, no matter seemingly how small and insignificant, the resulting changes to history are huge and far-reaching. It’s a real mind-bender!
But this show is a hit in my book! 11.22.63 contains superb acting by extremely talented people, tense, fast pacing that will literally have your heart pounding in your ears as November 22, 1963 creeps closer and closer, and you’ll find yourself rooting for Jake to succeed as you ride along with him. Definitely worth a watch, folks!