11.22.63 Franco

Based on the recent Stephen King bestseller, 11.22.63 is a miniseries with some frankly amazing star power attached. This could easily have been a major studio film with actors like James Franco and Chris Cooper, not to mention the fact that it is produced by J.J. Abrams—one of the biggest names in the industry right now following the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

James Franco stars as Jake Epping, a high school teacher who seems to love his job but doesn’t seem to have much else going on in his life—to the point where the action kind of kicks off the moment he signs his divorce papers. I was a little nervous at first at how quickly everything got rolling, to the point that after Al comes back, he actually just tells Jake to stop the assassination of JFK flat-out.

11.22.63It makes sense as the pilot continues to develop, though. Al has been in the past for two years and doesn’t have much time to bullshit. He doesn’t have much time in general, as a matter of fact. The only reason Al chooses Jake is that he’s been diagnosed with cancer and cannot physically complete the task himself. What I really like is that even though the basic setup is delivered bluntly, we spend a long time with Jake as he weighs that decision. It’s not treated lightly and it’s not skipped over.

The only way this works is if Jake goes back at the exact point when he is ready to go back and not a moment before. He spends so long talking about the idea with Al that we actually get a lot of the technical specifics of their conversation through flashbacks—or flash-forwards as the case may be.

This is a feature length pilot, but it moves pretty fast. Even if there’s a lot devoted to character development, especially in those first forty minutes, there’s a lot of setup as well. If there’s one major criticism I actually have with the episode, it’s that there’s too much exposition. If we’re getting flashbacks, then a lot of those explanations of the time travel itself should have been saved for later episodes and introduced as needed. But these scenes don’t distract too heavily from the main plot.

James Franco in 11.22.63One thing that really surprised me, in a pleasant way, was the foreboding nature of the time travel itself. There’s almost somewhat of a Final Destination element in that time is almost as much a character in this series as death was in that franchise. Time does not want to change, it does not want this trespasser there, it wants him gone. As removed as the general plot and the romance element are from King’s wheelhouse, this provides us with the traditional Stephen King element. The repeated phrase of “You shouldn’t be here” is simplistic and obvious, but it’s extremely effective, all the same.

Still, it’s certainly not outright horror, at least not yet. Instead, what we have here is a well balanced and effective thriller. I wouldn’t call it game changing just yet, but there’s a lot of talent on display in this opening episode. Franco gives an expectedly great performance and enough is set up so that tuning in for future episodes really seems like a no brainer.