Have you had an opportunity to check out 11.22.63? If not, we can confidently guide you toward the first episode. There are no rules for Hulu when it comes to self-distribution, and the entity doesn’t mess around with the first episode. You don’t get an introduction to the story…you get into the story—one hour and twenty minutes worth. If you’re still not sold, understand the following: we’re not paid to endorse this show. If you love mysteries, adventures, thrillers, romance and historical fiction, you’ll enjoy these waters. Here are 10 reasons to dive right in.
10. James Franco Is at His Best
Love or hate James Franco, the guy is wickedly talented, and he’s also one of those scary intelligent types who gets bored easily with life. This project had little to do with money or screwing around with Seth Rogen, so it was rather obvious that Franco was drawn to the story/concept of the miniseries. Within it, James plays Jake Epping/Ambersome, an English teacher who was introduced to a “rabbit hole” in a diner closet which transports passengers to a specific day in 1960. He is challenged by a friend, and mentor, to go back in time to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. There’s something classic about Franco, and he really fits well into the 1960s era period piece. This is not a project in which Franco phones in his performance. It was obvious he was loving this ride.
9. J.J. Abrams Doesn’t Produce Crap
J.J. Abrams has become so popular, it’s now a popular thing to criticize him harshly (Christopher Nolan has been dealing with the same issue for the past four years or so as well). Considering the big picture, J.J. doesn’t mess around. Everything he does is quality. It may be an issue of different strokes for different folks, but the guy only deals in quality. 11.22.63 is no departure from his past forays into television. It’s really good stuff. If J.J. puts his name (Bad Robot) behind it, you can rest assured it’ll hold your attention. We won’t proclaim that this miniseries isn’t without its flaw, but what movie, show or series made for mass consumption is perfect? Get too esoteric, and people shut it off. That stated, a good understanding of the JFK assassination and the era certainly enriches the viewing process.
8. Chris Cooper Continuously Chastising James Franco
Chris Cooper plays a recurring role in the eight episodes of the series, a character named Al Templeton, the owner of the diner possessing the rabbit hole. (Yes, fellow nerds, the rabbit hole/wormhole exists regardless of the diner, but that’s already a bit of a spoiler…) Al was a former Vietnam veteran, adversely affected and lastingly effected by the events of the war, ultimately believing that JFK’s assassination was the reason the United States engaged in the conflict. His own experiences through the rabbit hole taught him a great deal, but he was unable to complete his mission. He coaxes Jake (James Franco) to finish it for him, and he doesn’t mince words when Jake gets wishy-washy. He lays into Jake pretty hard during the first couple episodes and injects some enjoyable comedy into the drama. After several tongue lashings, Jake gives it a go.
7. A Fireplace Poker
How cryptic can we be when addressing a prop in the show? We have no choice, otherwise we’ll spoil some of the magic. There are several things worthy of note throughout this eight episode series, including some props, locations and, obviously, several characters. Jake Epping (Franco) has to live in the past for three years before he can address the day in question. This means he has to build a life, as opposed to sit around and wait for time to pass. He meets some fascinating people, has run-ins with past versions of people from his present, and dabbles with guns, spy equipment and in one fleeting moment, a fireplace poker, aka, a fire iron. Yes, it’s one of the top 10 reasons to watch the show. If you’re irritated that we’re spoiling things, there are multiple pokers in the 11.22.63 mix.
6. Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald
Lee Harvey Oswald has been portrayed hundreds of times on stage, and several times on screen. He’s a tough egg to crack. 11.22.63 sticks to the narrative offered by The Warren Commission: Lee Harvey was the lone gunman in the Kennedy assassination. Wherever you stand on the subject of discussion/debate, Australian actor Daniel Webber did a knockout job as the delusional, frustrated and immature Lee Harvey Oswald. Many are under the impression that Lee was much older at the time of the Kennedy assassination, yet he was only 24. (Worth noting: Webber did a nice job committing fully to Lee’s odd, mish-mash of an accent.) In 2016, Lee Harvey Oswald probably would have been diagnosed bi-polar, and you can’t miss that in Daniel Webber’s portrayal. And that’s the winning formula: want an unknown actor with chops? Hire an Australian.
5. Josh Duhamel Is a Stellar Villain
Josh Duhamel doesn’t get the opportunity to play “bad guy” enough, and when he does, he’s usually the unintentional villain. As of late, we’ve seen Josh repeatedly playing hero with a bunch of transforming robots, playing an investigator and voicing Captain Flynn in Jake and the Never Land Pirates, but rarely do we get to see him flex his skill set. In 11.22.63, he’s integral to progression of the story, though his character has absolutely nothing to do with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Josh Duhamel plays the respected, yet feared, Frank Dunning, a small town Kentucky butcher who is introduced as a charismatic, lovable father, but like so many, Frank can’t handle his drink. Josh plays one of those guys you love to hate—one of those characters who force you to forget any of their redeeming qualities.
4. Honors the Warren Commission
As mentioned, 11.22.63 honors the discoveries and investigation of the Warren Commission. For decades, Americans have struggled to believe the “official” story of the Kennedy assassination. Wikipedia touts Lee Harvey Oswald as an American sniper (not really) and former military officer (eh, okay) who lost rank (true), eventually defected to the Soviet Union and returned to the United States to wreak political havoc (he was a Marxist) and make a name for himself by doing something great. Is it possible Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing JFK? Yes. It’s possible. Probable or plausible? Hmmm. For sake of argument, 11.22.63 sticks to the official government story, which allows for a more efficient and concise conclusion to the events of November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. And credit to Stephen King and the writing team for offering a nice twist to history.
3. Hello, Sarah Gadon
Again, we’ll tread lightly on the spoilage, but can comfortably state that Sarah Gadon is a revelation as Sadie Dunhill. The Canadian actress has enjoyed quite a career in her first 29 years, but 11.22.63 offered her the opportunity to really prove that she could carry a story. And she proves it time and time again throughout the series. It may be premature to say that she’ll enjoy some nominations for her work, but it really is that good. She’s everything you hope for in a series that addresses a bygone era, featuring a woman ahead of her time. Be careful going into this one…Sadie Dunhill will lasso your heart, just as she does Jake Amberson’s (Epping). The chemistry between James Franco and Sarah Gadon is off the charts. You will find yourself cheering for the duo as they work through some very unusual circumstances.
2. From the Mind of Stephen King
Stephen King has been the mind behind some pretty terrific films and television series, as well as a few with engaging premises which have been poorly executed. 11.22.63 is an example of the former, and it should hold up well for years to come. Stephen took a more active role in the production of this series, and it shows. It seems at times that they ran out of time and/or money, or had to kill more complex ideas to appeal to a broader audience base, but overall it’s smart. It’s sharp. It’ll mess with the minds of the average viewer, and should remain quite entertaining for any audience member, including students presently studying American history. The production captures the era well. As is the case with any Stephen King story, the stakes remain high from intrusion to conclusion.
1. Hulu’s Most Ambitious Project to Date
Everyone wins when a series like 11.22.63 is produced. It is content-based, doesn’t rely on the tight, network-binding rules and regulations of the FCC, and a subscription to Hulu is pennies on the dollar when compared to other premium services such as HBO and Showtime. Big picture, this was a risk for Hulu. A crap series would’ve spelled a major setback in the realm of self-distribution, especially on another A-list led drama/thriller project…heck, anything outside of the comedy genre!? No worries for Hulu: the Internet-based entity hit a home run with this offering, and it should score more than a little attention when award chatter starts to heat up later this year. One of the best things about the series: the production leaves you wanting more. You want more adventure and misadventure starring the same lead characters.