3 out of 5
Developed by: Bridget Carpenter
Once you set aside the main conceit of the plot, 11.22.63 is a pretty standard drama. It shows some nice star power buy-in for the Hulu streaming service for which it aired, resulting in quality production and a well-paced script, but when source-material author Stephen King starts to trot out some incredibly cliched delaying tactics, it brings us to further question where can this really all lead. Thankfully, the team behind the show chose to treat it as an isolated series, meaning that it does, at least, lead to a conclusion. Which is as pat as the rest of the thing, but satisfying enough to have made the 8-episode trip acceptable.
So James Franco is a teacher named Jake, who’s having a tough time dealing with his divorce, and telling the owner of his local haunt – Chris Cooper, Al – all about it. Al says “waitaminute, I got just the thing,” and then shows Jake a closet he can step in to that transports him to a particular day and time in 1958. Why? Uh huh. King (and thus the show) lampshade this – and several other time travel quirks – with a big “I don’t know, but guess what else?” and then moves on. Which, yeah, is fine. By not digging into the details, it makes the show’s focus on story not feel like a cheat. But, y’know, King excels at the details and flounders with the actual story, making 11.22.63, perhaps, a risky gamble. Thankfully, the show remains dedicated to its goal, which is to have Jake stop JFK from being killed in 1963, as by Al’s logic that’s where the world started to slide downhill. And so our teacher dutifully goes, using future knowledge to get moneys and stuff, and living his life in the late 50s and early 60s to wait for the inevitable day to stop the inevitable.
Roadblocks come from Jake’s desires to try to fix some other things along the way, and his discovery that “the past pushes back.” I mean, don’t worry: it doesn’t really push too hard. More an inconvenience of a stubbed toe, or you lost your keys. The _really_ horrible things tend to come simply from Jake’s involvement (altruistic as his intentions are), which should allow you to piece together how things are going to go. And maybe that’s the only reason we hang in there, to see: does he succeed or not? King knows this; the show knows this, and tries to further invest us by grounding Jake, and the connection and relationships he makes in the past.
It’s all pretty standard in the end, though: no sci-fi knowledge required to sift through time travel inconsistencies. Standard doesn’t necessarily make for bad TV, of course, especially when you’ve got a nicely balanced cast and believable and impressive period-piece setting production, as we do with 11.22.63. Are you a Franco fan? Did you read the book? Got eight hours to spare and no other TV shows to watch? Yes to any of the above could result in your watching 11.22.63, and being okay with it.