Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime are a godsend in these glory days of television. Gone are the days when big budgeted miniseries adaptations were relegated solely to HBO or Showtime. It used to be that if a lengthy, multi-episode event series was to be dedicated to a Stephen King novel, it was going to be on network television (ABC) and directed by Mick Garris. The majority of those adaptations are mediocre at best.
11.22.63 tells the story of Jake Epping (James Franco) who, for contrived reasons in the reality of the series, must go back in time and stop the assassination of JFK—hence the title, the date of the shooting. A portal back in time exists in a diner, and on the other side of that portal is 1960. This is where the series has a lot of fun explaining its own rules for time travel:
You can enter the portal, make changes to the past, and reenter through the portal to emerge back in 2016 with only two minutes having passed. If you enter to go back in time back to 1960 again, all of the changes you had made to the past the first time around are undone. If you make mistakes, you have a chance to correct them and get a redo. The only problem is that time affects the time traveler regularly, so if you spend 15 years in the past, you’re going to come back to the present time looking 15 years older and surprise the hell out of everybody. Jake has basically one shot to get it right. Aging three years on a mission is feasible. Aging six years might be a bit much.
Along the way, complications ensue. The past, as explained by helpful plot catalyst and exposition device Al Templeton (Chris Cooper), doesn’t want to be changed, so it will do whatever it can to keep it from happening. Sudden, unexpected diarrhea at the moment of truth might strike. A bus accident blocking a major intersection. Anything it can do to keep its events from changing.
And, of course, Jake makes the mistake of falling in love. He meets cute with librarian Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon) and she becomes very important to him. Whatever events he changes in the past seem to have retaliations against Jake in the form of putting Sadie in harm’s way to protect the events that fate wants to befall.
He doesn’t just fall in love with Sadie. He falls in love with the life that he’s forged for himself in the past and fellow colleagues at the school he teaches at become the reason he wants to fight for a better world, having the 20/20 vision of hindsight. He hopes that stopping the assassination of JFK will prevent the Vietnam War, which will prevent untold loss of lives. Along the way, he also prevents the traumatic murder of one of his adult student’s family—an event that has haunted the student for a lifetime. His entire mission, he feels, is to make the new future a better one.
11.22.63 boasts a great supporting cast, especially from Nick Searcy who’s had a career as being typecast very specifically as an older, wiser surrogate father figure for a semi-floundering main character. But you know what? He’s really good at it, and I hope there’s no shortage of that type of role for him in the future. He’s almost always going to be the best thing about any given scene that he’s in, from From the Earth to the Moon to Justified and all the way up to 11.22.63.
Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald is a delicate balancing act for an actor. The series plays with a lot of possibilities for the motivation of JFK’s murder, one of which being the conspiracy element. Oswald as a character must seem, simultaneously, like someone capable of working for a larger organization and like someone pathetic enough to think shooting the President on his own will give his existence some sort of meaning. He’s a mean drunk, an abusive husband and a struggling father. He’s not simply an archetype of those descriptors, but a fully-rounded character that wallows in self-prescribed misery.
A series like this, that has so many story threads, depends on its ending. How everything plays out hinges on a satisfying denouement. 11.22.63 mostly succeeds on that front. A few loose ends never get wrapped up but where it matters, 11.22.63 delivers. The very, very ending, the last scene of the last episode of the series is almost perfection. It comes pretty damn close to it.
Now that the series has wrapped, every episode of 11.22.63 is available on Hulu and you can binge watch it like God intended, instead of watching and waiting week after week.