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Monday, August 15, 2016

11.22.63 Blu-ray Review

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: '11.22.63' on Blogcritics.

Recently released on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD is 11.22.63, a Hulu original miniseries in which a man goes back in time to try to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Based on the novel of the same name by horror master Stephen King, produced by the great J.J. Abrams, and written by the terrific Bridget Carpenter (Friday Night Lights), 11.22.63 touches on a number of moral concepts as the characters struggle with how much they should try to change time, and as time fights back. It’s an intriguing premise, though one surprisingly unevenly executed, given the talent involved.

When I first reviewed Hulu’s 11.22.63 pilot, I had a few problems with it. I thought there were scenes that would be better in book form, lacking the insight audiences need into the thinking process of a character or two. I thought the general scenario was cool, but the actual way in which the adventure was approached was too simplistic, squandering rich, deep ideas, favoring instead immediate actions. I also thought it was a bit of a copy of the Final Destination movies, albeit not nearly as bloody.

Having now watched more of the eight-episode miniseries, I’d say two of the above three complaints hold steady throughout. The last one, comparing it to Final Destination, no longer seems all that fair. There are elements the two works have in common, but the parallels lessen the more you watch of this program.

Instead, my main problem is just how the series skips around and glosses over the issues I really want it to explore. For instance, the pilot finds our protagonist, Jake Epping (James Franco, 127 Hours, This Is the End), pushing against the course of history and he is smacked back for it. But in the second episode, Jake pushes even further, and nothing seemingly of consequence happens any time soon. It’s puzzling what the rules are of the world, and rather than dig into the mythology, the focus is just on Jake’s mission and whatever side trips he briefly makes.

Speaking of side trips, Jake decides not to go things alone. Knowing he will be in the 1960s for several years, he reluctantly takes on a sidekick, Bill Turcotte (George McKay, Pride), and a girlfriend, Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gadon, Total Drama). It doesn’t quite seem fair to these two, especially the latter, that Jake would involve them in his life. Yet, 11.22.63 doesn’t even attempt to address that, pushing instead ever onward as Jake spies on Lee Harvey Oswald (Daniel Webber, K9) and his possible governmental cohort, George de Mohrenschildt (Jonny Coyne, Alcatraz).

I don’t want to get into the ending at all because if you’re watching 11.22.63, that’s probably what you’re most anticipating, and I hesitate to spoil anything. Overall, though, I think it’s strangely paced, a little random in the parts of the story it tells or doesn’t tell, and Franco is a bit miscast. He’s not a bad actor in the right role, but I don’t think this is the right role for him. That being said, the rest of the ensemble, which also includes the likes of Chris Cooper (The Bourne Identity), Cherry Jones (24), T.R. Knight (Grey’s Anatomy), Nick Searcy (Justified), Josh Duhamel (Las Vegas), Kevin J. O’Connor (Chicago P.D.), and  Lucy Fry (Mako Mermaids), is pretty solid. So I like this miniseries, but don’t love it.

As far as extras go, there is a single featurette entitled “When the Future Fights Back.” Funnily enough, that’s a topic I wanted more of in the series itself, and so it feels a little dissatisfying here, especially because this is a general “Making Of” and not specifically about the query.

11.22.63 is available now.

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