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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Review: ‘11.22.63’ is a historic date, a science fiction novel and now a TV show

    Still from the Hulu original series “11.22.63.” The show is an eight-episode seires based on Stephen King’s science fiction thriller.

    The assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 left the country devastated. The agreed-upon explanation of what happened labels Lee Harvey Oswald as the man who did the deed. Of course, people love to disagree with and question the truth, so conspiracy theories concerning Kennedy’s death abounded over the years.

    If you could somehow go back in time and observe Oswald in the time leading up to the assassination as a way of investigating what happened, would you?

    Well, James Franco certainly would, as shown in the new, eight-part Hulu miniseries, “11.22.63.” Not the catchiest title, but at least nobody will ask when the show takes place.

    The Stephen King novel of the same name inspired the series. Franco stars as Jake Epping, a high school English teacher who discovers that his friend, Al Templeton (Chris Cooper), has a wormhole in the closet at the back of the restaurant he owns. This wormhole can take a person all the way back to 1960. 

    The two can enter the wormhole and stay as long as they want, but when they come back out, only two minutes will have passed in the present day, no matter how long they stayed in there for.

    The past itself may try to keep them out, however. That’s what happened to Templeton, whose last trip to the past resulted in him getting cancer. The show doesn’t offer any further explanation for why or how this happened. He just wasn’t supposed to travel back there, so he got cancer. It’s not exactly the most compelling plot point.

    Templeton also has it in his head that he must prevent the 1963 assassination of Kennedy in order to make the world a better place. Since he can no longer go, he sends Epping instead. Epping will have to spend three years in the wormhole leading up to the assassination. He will have to follow Templeton’s instructions when he gets there and investigate Oswald to discover what happened that day and prevent the assassination.

    The whole thing feels slightly ridiculous right from the start. Occasional scenes of brutal violence make the viewer question what the show aims to do. Generally, it serves as a fairly well-made and well-acted drama, until occasionally someone shows up bloody and bruised.

    The show’s opening scene shows Harry Dunning, one of Epping’s adult students, recounting the story of when his father murdered his entire family in 1960. It’s a dark, unsettling and downright strange way to begin the series. It conveys a completely different tone from the rest of the show.

    In the second episode, Epping feels discouraged about his mission, so he decides to take a detour and prevent Dunning’s father (Josh Duhamel), who happens to live in a town close by, from murdering the family. After this little side job, he picks up a sidekick named Bill and heads to Texas to begin the investigation without addressing any of the questions or doubts that led him to take a break in the first place. This makes an awkward—but not overbearingly awkward—transition as Epping navigates these two goals. 

    Franco gives it his all and he does a good job in the lead role. The series feels strange at times, but the strangest thing about it is seeing Franco in a Hulu series. He must have loved the script, or maybe he wanted the chance to work with executive producers King and J.J. Abrams. Either way, the show feels beneath him. It’s just a miniseries though, so Franco will most likely not make an actual switch to television.

    The show is good. It’s not great, but it does prove that Hulu can make quality original programming. The site has several original releases now, no doubt incredibly eager to compete with other streaming websites that dominates the market when it comes to original online television. Although Hulu cannot yet compete, “11.22.63” shows that it may one day get there.

    Fans of Franco will enjoy this show. The pleasantly retro, 1960s vibe also makes the series appealing. The show is worth a watch, despite the awkward, out-of-place bursts of violence and the not-catchy title.

    “11.22.63” airs Monday nights on Hulu.

    Follow Alec Kuehnle on Twitter.

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