“The book’s always better. Everybody knows that.” — Sadie Dunhill
Hulu’s 11.22.63 starring James Franco and produced by J.J. Abrams is based on Stephen King’s 900-page epic of the same title. As someone who has read and loved the book, I am not here to bash the miniseries at every turn. I feel that when you constantly compare a book to a movie or TV show, you will normally leave disappointed.
How many Stephen King fans actually acknowledge the fact that Under the Dome was on TV? When you are making an eight-episode series based on a 900-page book, especially a book by an extremely detailed author, some things will get changed and some will get left out. It just happens.
Now with that being said, 11.22.63 follows a normal, everyday teacher in Jake Epping (Franco) as he goes back in time to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The past, however, does not want to get changed, and it fights back at every opportunity.
The show, much like the book, starts off with Epping hearing a brutal story from a student trying to earn a GED. Harry Dunning (Jack Fulton) tells his teacher about how his dad killed his whole family on Halloween night. This is one instance where I wish the show tried harder to capture the magic of the book. When reading Harry’s final essay for his GED, you just couldn’t help feeling the power of the words he was writing and being drawn into the powerful story of how his family got murdered that night, how Harry was made handicapped, and how it caused kids to taunt him his whole life. It was those first five pages that really hooked me on the book. I realized soon after its beginning that the movie was going to take the viewer on a very different journey.
While sitting at Al’s Diner signing his divorce papers, Jake notices that his friend Al Templeton (Chris Cooper), the owner of the diner, appears to have aged considerably in just a matter of minutes. Al tries to kick everyone out of the diner, but Jake demands to know what is happening. Al convinces Jake to go into his closet and keep walking. It is at that moment that the viewer realizes that Jake will never be the same again.
Jake pops out of the closet in 1960, where he first encounters a wino Al has nicknamed “Yellow Card Man” (Kevin J. O’Connor). He then turns around and runs back through the rabbit hole where, to his surprise, only two minutes have passed. Al then proceeds to tell Jake about the rules of the rabbit hole. He says that no matter how long one spends in the past, when he returns to the present, only two minutes will have passed. Al also explains that each time through the rabbit hole resets the previous trip.
After an argument with Al and a sleepless night, Jake decides to go back in time. He rushes to tell Al, only to find him dead. He then grabs Al’s notes and goes through the rabbit hole to start his epic quest.
Hulu’s version of 11.22.63 really shines and comes to life once Jake is back in the 60s (book purists, please don’t mention the fact that in the book, he starts off in 1958). The art direction of the show is phenomenal. From the cars to the clothes, it really matches what I had pictured that time period to look like. Franco does a good job of portraying his role as a normal guy who had a crazy task thrust upon him. What took some getting used to is that in the show, Jake heads straight to Dallas, while the book has him start out performing other tasks beforehand.
The show does a very good job in the first episode of showing just how much the past doesn’t want to be changed. Jake’s almost getting hit by a car, being attacked by roaches, and oh yeah, his boarding house catching on fire, demonstrate emphatically that the past wants to stay in the past. Episode one also sets up several storylines for the rest of the series. Jake’s gambling habit, his love interest Sadie (Sarah Gadon), Sadie’s husband and Frank Dunning (Harry’s father) foreshadow what’s to come.
This first episode of 11.22.63, while not perfect, left me wanting more in a different way than the book did. Who doesn’t love the way that the Yellow Card Man came to life in this opening episode? I hope the rest of the series can take the viewers on the same wild ride that the book took its readers.