11.22.63 – Episode 1 – Hulu Review

11-4

I did an article about this series a few months back, declaring my admiration for Stephen King’s novel and how excited I was about it being turned into a series. After the first episode, it’s safe to say that I’m still a fan of the story and its universe, but as a big fan of the book I still have my worries about the series overall.

Cinematics – 2

Kevin MacDonald is a great director. There’s only one aspect that I think he could’ve done better with, and that’s his work with the actors. The dialogue and performances felt weak to me at times. It’s not entirely MacDonald’s fault, though. Directing from a script (Episode 1’s script) that’s pretty much jamming 150 pages of an 849-page novel into an hour long teleplay is rather difficult, especially within a universe about time-travel. You see, in a novel you have time to develop and explain characters, universes, and rules. In television, that privilege goes right out the window, which is terrible in this episode’s case and one of the reasons why I’m still on edge about the entire series.

The script is my biggest complaint so far. I guess most of my complaints will come from being such a huge fan of the book, but I can’t help that, so please respect my opinion as a lover of the novel. The script is too rushed, in my opinion. Yes, some great moments from the novel are left out, but that’s not what I’m talking about. With any time-travel story, there needs to be great explanation so the audience can easily follow along. With this show, all of the explanation and trials and errors that would help establish the universe have been ripped out, cutting straight to the chase before the first commercial break…”I need you to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy.” It literally comes out of nowhere, which makes the entire plot and premise feel abrupt, fabricated, and boring.

"...the entire plot and premise feels abrupt, fabricated and boring."

“…the entire plot and premise feels abrupt, fabricated and boring.”

Doing it this way messes with the entire episodes pacing, which is way too fast. In the book, Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) talks about the butterfly effect and a “watershed moment” and explains everything about the time portal BEFORE explaining that he wants to save JFK’s life. In the TV show, Al comes straight outta Compton and says exactly what he wants Jake to do. Yes, it is a great “act-ending” moment so the viewers can remain enticed while the commercials are going on, but as for the overall story and premise of the show, it hurt it in a very bad way.

And right before the end of the act, Al comes back from the past, coughing up his lungs and passing out. The creators were going for some kind of “shock” value here, but I’m sorry to say that it missed the mark. The reason it’s so shocking in the book is because Al comes back from a 5-year stint in the past. One of those years he actually had to deal with the cancer. So, when he came back to present day in the book, he looked like a completely different person to Jake, who just saw him the day before. That’s what shock looks like. In the television show, Al disappears with combed hair and then comes back two minutes later with messy hair and has a terrible cough. It’s not the same kind of shock, adding to the fact that the show feels fabricated, scripted and rush.

Yes, it’s a television shows, so it’s going to be scripted, but when a movie or television show is so good that you make the viewers forget they’re “watching” something, then that’s when you know you’re doing something right. They missed that mark here, almost completely. Another mark they missed was developing stakes for Al Templeton and Jake Epping (James Franco). In the book, Al wants Jake to go back because his cancer has stopped him from doing what he set out to do, but he also wants Jake to go back because the diner (where the portal exists) is going to be demolished to make room for a new strip mall. So, if they don’t save JFK now, then there may never be another chance after that. That whole aspect of the story is completely erased in the television show, stripping the stakes away from Jake and Al’s actions. What they do instead is extremely dull and kind of cheap, in my opinion. There’s no sense of urgency and no sense of “you have no other choice but to do this.” It ruins the pacing and the tone of the story, leaving a very bad taste in my mouth.

Another mark they missed was developing stakes for Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) and Jake Epping (James Franco).

Another mark they missed was developing stakes for Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) and Jake Epping (James Franco).

Something else that left a bad taste in my mouth is the random animosity Al showed towards Jake throughout the episode. I literally said, “Where did that come from?” about five different times. Al would be talking and then Jake would be reluctant about doing what Al asked, then Al breaks out into this tangent about how Jake doesn’t ever want to do anything that matters… Where in the heck did he get that idea? We haven’t seen that from Jake at all. Actually, Jake seems to be very apt about doing something that matters. We see him teaching about how people with mental illnesses matter just as much as wars and politics. We see that he teaches a night class for adults who never got their high school education. We see he cares about his job and the students he teaches. So, why is Al so mad at Jake for not “doing something that matters?” The writers were “telling” us about Jake instead of “showing” us him being reluctant about doing something that matters, making these bits of animosity create confusion instead of tension.

Other things I’ll complain about are the acting and dialogue delivery. This isn’t entirely the script’s fault because I’ve seen actors turn terrible dialogue into great scenes, so a lot of my complaints rest on the actors. A lot of the conversations and bits of dialogue are very awkward in the beginning. Luckily it all gets better after Jake goes through the portal, but for the first few minutes of the very first episode, I was worried.

James Franco never fit Jake Epping for me, and after watching him in this episode he still doesn’t fit. He’s supposed to be your everyday, genuine high school English teacher, but he honestly doesn’t feel like either of those things. He feels like James Franco in a Hulu mini-series, not a great character like Jake Epping. That genuine and English teacher feel doesn’t work because we don’t really get too much time to see his character develop. It’s literally 5 minutes of him on screen teaching and talking to his ex-wife and then BOOM! Here comes Al Templeton with his wonderful exclamation of the goal for Jake. We don’t really get to know the protagonist; so finding empathy with him at any point in this episode was very hard for me. I honestly didn’t feel any panic or worry during the later minutes of the episode, and that’s because Jake Epping wasn’t set up as a character very well.

James Franco still doesn't fit for me.

James Franco still doesn’t fit for me.

With all that said, I will say that it’s an “okay” adaptation, so far. I don’t entirely agree with some of the choices the writers made, but they do a good job of incorporating subplots and little elements from the book into this episode. Some of them actually worked better than they did in the book, but there still weren’t enough factors for me to say this was a great adaptation, particularly because Jake Epping arrives in Dallas, Texas (the location where JFK was assassinated) halfway through the first episode… half… way.

Are you serious? “11/22/63” is 849 pages long. Jake Epping doesn’t arrive in Dallas until the 400-500s. With this aspect, they definitely made everything feel extra rushed for me. I don’t know where they are going with it, but I definitely know the tie-in to “IT’ that the novel had will not be in the mini-series… at least for right now.

Entertainment Value – 3

Was I entertained with this episode? Yes, I was. I’m not going to lie about it. It’s awesome to see one of my favorite novels coming to life, so yes I’m very excited for this series. If you’ve never read the novel, then you’ll find yourself very intrigued and asking lots of questions, potentially making you watch the episode again. These are all good things because not too many people know this book even exists. Most of my friends didn’t know it was a book, so after watching it with them they are most definitely interested in giving it a look.

Regardless of my criticism, I did enjoy the episode.

Regardless of my criticism, I did enjoy the episode.

It’s a good first episode, but I just wish they didn’t rush things the way they did and I wish they made this a 10-episode mini-series instead of eight, allowing them some extra time for great character development. In a perfect world, I thought the first episode was going to END with Al telling Jake that he wanted him to go back in time and save JFK, but I was very wrong… that occurred right before the first commercial break. (smh)

Regardless, though, I was entertained and cannot wait for the next episode, but my admiration for the novel keeps me skeptical and very critical about a lot of the artistic choices made.

Rewatchability – 3

If you’ve never read the book, then you’re probably going to watch it again because it’s such a different kind of story. Also because there are a lot of little things you can miss during your first viewing, so that second viewing will help make some stuff more recognizable and understandable.

I did watch the episode twice, and although I was still angry with some of the artistic choices, I didn’t mind rewatching it. I’m sure once all the episodes have been released I will go back and rewatch it all, loving the fact that they actually turned one of my favorite novels into a mini-series. The rewatchability is there, but it will be easier for people who have never read the novel.

I’ll see you next week!

11/22/63 Episode 1 Review
  • Cinematics
  • Entertainment Value
  • Rewatchability

Summary

The first episode of this mini-series still leaves me skeptical about the overall product. I can’t really say anything until all the episodes have been released, but with how rushed, fabricated and dull this episode felt during some of its critical moments, it’s safe to say that it’s not a “great” mini-series and adaptation yet. There’s still hope, though.

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Matt

Author: Matt

Seeing "Stand By Me" at the age of 6 solidified Matt's ambition to be a part of the entertainment industry. After growing up in Northern Virginia, studying film at Old Dominion University and rising from intern to Stage Manager at a Dinner Theater, Matt found himself at a speed bump in his life and wanting to express himself in more of a substantial way than calling a cue or flying a line every night. This need for creative expression pushed him to take on the challenge of getting a Master's Degree, which sent him on a year-long endeavor that seemed to throw obstacles and setbacks from every direction. But now, Matt is a screenwriter with a Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and a passion for film, video games and professional wrestling, looking to keep the ambitious 6-year-old inside of him alive by entertaining the world through various forms of entertainment.

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  • Heather Spears

    I get that you’re a fan of the book, but with this review you have lost all credibility as a critic for me. No, with any time-travel story, there does not need to be great explanation so the audience can easily follow along. Only an idiot needs time travel intricately explained. It’s time travel, my disbelief was suspended from the word go. Also this is only a mini-series. There’s isn’t time to beat around the bush, and explain every minute detail. It’s boring. Cut to the chase already! For someone who claims to be a script writer, you seem more suited for novels. Just saying. With a title like 11.22.63 it’s obviously going to have something to do with the JFK assasination, so Al telling Jake that he needs him to stop it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. I also don’t agree with your assertion that most people don’t even know the book exists. For one thing it’s a best seller, and secondly it says so in the opening credits. You also criticize that the show feels fabricated, scripted, and rushed. Well, not once did I feel like I was watching a scripted television show, and that’s coming from someone who’s never been a fan of James Franco. That guy always looks like he’s acting, and over doing it more times than not, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised with him so far. You need to stop comparing the show to the book, and just take it for what it is. I know that’s hard when it’s based on a book, but at some point you just have to stop and judge the show based on it’s on merits. So they changed things. So what? Get over it. You gripe about the animosity Al showed towards Jake. Said it came out of nowhere. Well did you ever stop and think that something might have happened prior to the moment we met these characters that might have justified his animosity? Probably not, because that would have required you to think, and it’s obvious from your review that you’re one of those critics who needs to have everything spelled out for them. Al being mad at Jake for not doing something that matters might seem to not make sense, but I saw that more as Al trying to get across how important the task at hand was. Obviously being a teacher is an admirable and noble profession, and his influence as one might even better a small part of society, but stopping the assasination of JFK has the potiental to re-write history. Possibly make the world a better place. The way I see it Al wasn’t trying to be mean he was just trying to convince Jake to go along with the plan. I get that everybody thinks they’re a critic, and clearly I’m no exception, but this is just ridiculous. In a novel there is more than enough time to explain every little detail, but in a TV series not so much. I’m sorry, I know this turned into a really long comment, and I promise I’m not trying to mean. I’m just tired of people needing to have every single detail explained, because (presumably) they’re too lazy to put a little though into what they’re watching. Personally, I thought the episode was good, and did a good job with setting the stage for what’s to come. You don’t have to agree with me, but considering your obvious fandom for the book you seem way too biased to review this show fairly. Just my two cents though. No offence.

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