Every once in a while, an event series comes along and shines a bright light on how long form novels can successfully be transitioned into filmed entertainment. 11.22.63 is one of those rare shows that actually lives up to the hype and delivers a thrilling heartfelt story from the bizarre beginning all the way through the senses shattering conclusion. Get ready to walk through the magical time portal pantry folks, because it’s time for the official Nerfed Llamas review of 11.22.63!
11.22.63 is a Hulu original event series consisting of 8 episodes. The plot centers around Jake Epping, a recently divorced high school English teacher that is given an improbable opportunity by a diner owner named Al to alter the course of history forever by saving President JFK from being assassinated in 1963. Featuring James Franco as Epping, Chris Cooper as Al, Sarah Gadon as Sadie Dunhill, Lucy Fry as Marina Oswald, Daniel Webber as Lee Harvey Oswald, and George MacKay as Bill Turcotte, as well as a host of other talented performers such as Josh Duhamel, Tonya Pinkins, Annette O’Toole, Nick Searcy and many more. Serving as both a science fiction time travel experiment and a multi-year period piece, 11.22.63 is at its core a character drama that explores the totality in which we influence the people and the events around us. For purposes of context, here is a brief trailer for the series which should give you a good idea of what kind of experience to expect from 11.22.63.
- Production design – the show looks and feels like an authentic representation of the 1960s. The clothes, the cars, the art, and the music all work together to really draw you into this brief segment of time from 50 years ago.
- The acting is phenomenal! From the main characters all the way down to the supporting characters, everybody puts in a nuanced and believable performance. Special Kudos to Josh Duhamel for an extra creepy villain guest roll that he plays.
- The story is smartly adapted to the small screen by developer Bridget Carpenter and the pacing is exceptional. From what I’ve read, this is a relatively faithful adaption of the original novel with any changes being approved by Stephen King, and it shows in the quality of the plot. Dialogue is engaging and period correct. Everything flows very well.
- By breaking the story into 8 episodes, they were able to put a ton of content into each episode. I find this format, especially when adapting a novel, to be far preferable than a feature film. I hope that more prestigious authors go this route so that we can get filmed adaptions that are a better representation of the core material (I’m looking at you – Harry Potter!).
What I truly love about 11.22.63 is that it is a story that is designed to make you think. It wants you to examine the links that are between each person and how those links affect all of us in the long run. Can having one conversation with someone change their life forever? Whereas time travel is not currently possible, the ramifications of our impact, no matter how minuscule, could potentially be huge. 11.22.63 never downplays this aspect of the narrative, and Jake repeatedly questions whether he has altered the past for too many people leading up to his inevitable confrontation with the events of the JFK assassination. Too many TV shows (I’m looking at you very specifically – the Flash) treat time travel as a quick fix gimmick that barely has any ramifications on the larger story being told. 11.22.63 uses time travel as an examination of the dangers of time travel, the consequences of altering the past, and of how sometimes the smallest interaction can have the largest impact. It is a story of a regular person taking on a tremendously heavy burden, not fully prepared for what is to come nor how it will impact his life, and the rest of the world, forever.
What I Didn’t Like: The biggest complaint I have with 11.22.63 is Lee Harvey Oswald. I don’t take issue with the actor, as Daniel Webber put in an admirable performance, it is more with the character’s development and motivations. Certain aspects of Lee Harvey’s life are made clear: he was a devout Marxist, a struggling father, and a man torn by the life he wants to lead and the change he wants to see take place in society. On the surface he is quite complex, but when you drill down deeper, especially near the end of the series, it gets harder to see what his actual motivation for killing JFK actually is. It feels like a snap decision that neither makes sense nor does it resonate with the character that is established for him in the series. I would have liked to have seen a deeper rationale behind why he became the lone gunman and why he specifically singled out JFK for assassination.
The only other major issue that I have with the series is that Jake is not very good at time travelling at all. To the show’s credit, he is consistently portrayed as a man that makes poor judgments in regards to how he handles being a stranger from another time. At some moments, his inept behavior can be fairly jarring. His process is simple, he assesses the situation and then makes a gut decision, and once that decision is made he sticks with it till the bitter end, no matter how obtuse it may be. Jake is stubborn to a fault, and as such a lot of his mission’s shortcomings are of his own making. He’s just not very good at inconspicuous and it can lead to the viewer shaking their head whilst watching him fail so badly. Again, this is more a character flaw that is consistent across the entire story, it just would have been nice if he appeared to learn from his mistakes over the course of his multi-year stay in the early 1960s.
Bottom Line: If you are in the mood for a long form thriller that successfully marries deep character development, intricate plot twists, factual events, and time travel, then you are in for a treat with 11.22.63. The entire show is an amazing experience that is chock full of detail, authenticity and serves as a beautiful snapshot of a time that will never exist again and that many of today’s millennial audience couldn’t hardly believe ever existed in the first place. J.J. Abrams and his team at Bad Robot have done a wonderful job adapting Stephen King’s original novel in a format that allowed for all of the important parts of the story to be told, kudos to Bridget Carpenter for putting this massive project together. Again, I usually don’t fall in love with event series, but 11.22.63 made me want to re-watch it immediately after I finished the final episode. It made me think, not just about the whimsically nonsensical notion of “what if time travel existed,” but of how much of an impact we have on the lives of every one around us. We have the capacity to be a force of positive change or destructive ruin to all that we meet. Just think, if a conversation that you have, or don’t have, with someone today could eventually lead to them becoming a fine upstanding individual or a fanatical murderer, how deep is the impact of the actions and decisions that you make daily impacting everyone else’s life? It’s deep water that 11.22.63 treads, and it does so with commitment and respect to the issues and the questions that it tackles. I highly recommend watching 11.22.63.
Not content to just review 11.22.63, I have also prepared an Apple Playlist of the music featured in the event series. Should you be in the mood for an eclectic mix of modern cuts and oldies alike, you can take a listen here on the 11.22.63 Playlist – enjoy! (Full Disclosure: a small handful of the songs from the series were not available on Apple Music, where applicable the best possible alternate version of the song has been selected as a replacement.)