A girl who uses her telekinetic powers for revenge. A town overrun by vampires. An isolated, haunted hotel. A car with a mind of its own. A cemetery that brings dead pets back to life. A young girl capable igniting fires with her mind
These are just a few of the unforgettable things you will encounter in the novels of Stephen King, the master of horror. I’ve been a King fan since the publication of “Carrie” all the way back in 1974, and subsequently King has written 57 novels, five nonfiction books, and a plethora of short stories. I’ve read a majority of King’s work, and although I still believe that his very early novels are better than some of his later ones, I consider the book he published in 2011 to be his masterpiece. And now that book is the basis of a new miniseries of the same name on Hulu.
In “11/22/63” we meet Jake Epping (James Franco), who teaches high school English in Lisbon Falls, Maine, in 2011, and who has just endured a divorce. In fact Jake signed his divorce papers in a diner owned by his friend Al Templeton (Chris Cooper), and shortly afterward Jake notices that Al has developed a very bad cough. When Jake questions him about it, Al tells him to come back the next day, and he will explain everything.
Jake dutifully returns to the diner on the following day, and his life changes forever. First, Al confesses that he has contracted cancer, but what he really wants to tell Jake is an amazing secret about a closet in the diner. Without any preamble, Al asks Jake to go into a closet and go and walk around in it. Jake has no idea what’s going on, but he does Al’s bidding, and suddenly finds himself in another world.
When he comes back out of the closet he says, “What the fuck was that?”
And Al replies, “That was 1960!”
“Why did you show that to me?” Jake asks.
And then Al drops the bomb by answering, “I want you to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy!”
Thus begins the saga of a man who can travel back to 1960 and begin making preparations to change history by killing Lee Harvey Oswald before he has the chance to pull the trigger from the window of the School Book Depository on that fate÷ful day in Dallas. And in the novel we followed Jake every step of the way until the breathtaking conclusion. Despite its foreboding size of more than 800 pages, the book is so good that you become completely lost in it, and the pages fly by.
And after just two episodes the miniseries promises to be just about as riveting as the book. Franco is excellent as Jake, who is quite naturally incredulous about the portal in Al’s diner, and his reactions to the sights, sounds, and lifestyles of the 1960s are wonderful. In an interview with Lisa Weidenfeld of The Hollywood Reporter, Franco spoke about his character and the whole idea of traveling back in time.
“That concept was one of my favorite things about the book and the scripts, was that Jake isn’t from this time. As an actor, I’ve done period pieces before, and in those conventional period pieces, you, as an actor, try to act like a character who’s from that period. You don’t see the seams of how the filmmakers create that period. You just want the audience to feel like, ‘OK, we’re back in time.’ But in this case, the character is not of that time. He becomes this really interesting figure who can point out things to the audience about what was great about the past. Like, the food tastes different, the milk tastes better, the pie is so good. And then he can point out things that were horrible or worse than they are now, like Jim Crow laws and things like that.
“It’s a unique storytelling device where the main character really becomes an ambassador for the audience to highlight different things about the past and what he’s looking at. But then, in addition to that, what the character Jake has to do is, he has to fit into the past. He’s not of that time. People did things differently back then. He is essentially doing what I do as an actor when I play a role. He is taking on different colloquialisms or different sayings of a period. He is dressing in a different way. He is behaving in a different way because he is trying to fit into the past. And so as an actor, playing somebody who essentially is being an actor himself, I don’t know; it was just fun.”
Franco also explained why agreed to take on the mission Al has for him.
“Jake’s life in 2016 isn’t really going the way that he had always dreamed that it would. I guess when he was younger, he probably dreamed of getting married and starting a family and becoming a novelist, and none of those things have worked out. We find him, he’s divorced, his novel never went anywhere, his high school English students don’t seem that interested in what he’s trying to teach. And so he doesn’t really have that much going on in the present.”
Cooper also is outstanding as Al, who desperately wants to see history changed before he dies. Cooper has a great range as an actor, and that certainly evident in this show.
In addition to the fine acting, this series is sensational at capturing the feel of the 1960s. The sets from the storefronts to the interiors of the buildings are absolutely magnificent, and the hairstyles and clothing are impeccable. And then there are those cars. Oh those beautiful, beautiful old cars!
I cannot recommend “11.22.63” highly enough, and even though I’ve seen only two episodes, I still am giving the series an enthusiastic 10. Don’t miss this one!