Hulu, Stephen King and Bad Robot have joined forces, to bring King’s novel ‘11.22.63’ to life. It’s a time travel tale about a guy named Jake Epping, who’s got nothing much going for him in the present. Ergo: the perfect candidate to go back to 1960 and stay there.
The pilot episode, called ‘The Rabbit Hole’, starts with a brutal murder. Why? Because it’s Stephen King, that’s why. We see brief images of the short story Harry Dunning (Leon Rippy, Under the Dome, Alcatraz, Deadwood) wrote, in Jake Epping’s (James Franco) class. It appears to be autobiographical. His father killed everybody in the house, but Harry. This must’ve happened somewhere in the 1960s. Storywise, no coincidence.
Diner owner Al Templeton (Chris Cooper, The Bourne Identity, American Beauty, Adaptation) has got some kind of time portal in the back. Take a few steps in the dark, and you literately fall into good old 1960. It’s just as easy to come back to 2016. There are, however, rules. Apparently, no one from 1960 is able to use the portal to travel to the future. Al can change anything he wants, but once he returns to his own time, everything he did gets erased. To have a lasting effect, he’d need to stay there.
Make Things Right
That lasting effect is what Al’s been trying to achieve. Prevent the Kennedy assassination. Prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from doing what he (allegedly) did. If he can stop whoever fired the gun, JFK would live and the Vietnam War would possibly end much sooner. There’s a chance here to make things right. Unfortunately, Al has come up short. Has been living three years in the past, until November 11, 1963, but couldn’t crack the case. It’s time to recruit somebody else. Preferably a guy who just got divorced: regular customer Jake.
You’d think: why just Jake? Why not more people? Would that work? I’d want to know. Why not Jake and Al together? Well, King has thought of everything, because Al’s got cancer and the night before Jake leaves, the diner owner dies. Jake’s on his own. Apart from figuring out who will kill Kennedy – and it looks like there’s a big conspiracy behind it -, danger follows him around wherever he goes: Time itself. One of the other rules is: Time doesn’t like to be messed with, the same way Death didn’t in the Final Destination movies. It’s not just people who come up to Jake, saying he doesn’t ‘belong here’, it’s also cars, fire and chandeliers that are out to get him.
It’s one of those typical stuffed King concepts. A lot of different elements brought together, all having a set of rules attached to it. 11.22.63 feels a bit bloated because of that, but it does work. Probably due to the fact that ‘The Rabbit Hole’ has the length of a feature film (as well as an unusually wide for television frame size). It takes its time. The pace is nice. The sixties look great. Cooper’s great. Even Franco’s a likeable guy. He just shouldn’t smile. His smile makes him extremely creepy.
The First Level
11.22.63 is Back to the Future, Final Destination, Edge of Tomorrow and Groundhog Day rolled into one. Jake’s the time traveling fish out of water, but he always has a way out/back. All he needs to do is go to the place where the (invisible) portal is, and he’s back in 2016. However long he’s been away doesn’t matter. If he returns, only 2 minutes will have passed. Thank you for playing. Game over. Start at the beginning again. I think that’s what the series is going to do. Play the first level a number of times, Groundhog style, until Jake’s met so many people – and fallen in love with a girl – that he doesn’t want to leave. But does he have a chance to live happily ever after, with Time constantly trying to take him out? And what happens if it succeeds? Al failed to mention that little clause in the contract. Anyway, so far so good.