Blu-Ray Review: 11.22.63 – The Complete Series (USA, 2016)

From the moment Steven King’s novel 11/22/63 was announced, there were efforts to turn it into a film, even before it had been released. However, its length and detail made it a difficult adaptation. Enter J.J. Abrams and streaming platform Hulu a few years later, and the book found its way into a eight part mini-series which stars James Franco and Chris Cooper, and premiered earlier in the year. Now the release is making its way onto a physical release here in Australia.

The show stars Franco as Jake Epping, a high school English teacher who seems to be in a bit of a rut. Enter local diner owner Al Templeton (played by Chris Cooper), who has a bit of a secret in his back cupboard – and a surprising reason he is able to keep his prices so low. Turns out he’s found a portal to October 21st, 1960, which brings you to the same date and time no matter how many times you go through it. If you come back, anything you’ve changed remains, with only 2 minutes passing at home. However, if you go back, it resets again and it’s how it was before again. Who knows how many alternate timelines Al has created in his life – but it’s a secret that he passes on to Jake to fulfill his lifelong quest – to try and stop the assassination of John F Kennedy, some three years after the time you landed in the past.

And there we have the basis of the show and the book. The time travel rules are laid out in pretty straight forward detail, we accept them as its reality and we move on. From there on out the show does its best to keep its audience from asking the question WHY? Why is Al really so fixated on JFK? Why does Jake feel like he has to change this part of history? Why, when things don’t go perfectly, doesn’t he just restart time and try again? Why is this homeless guy seemingly able to appear anywhere? Why does James Franco cry one single tear so often?

You’ve got to stop asking WHY so much or it will drive you mad. If you can accept the show for its plot holes, unexplained situations and fairly ridiculous scenarios – with characters who just go along with things and all their absurdities without any real reason to have gone along with it – then you will enjoy it. And ether way, it’s impossible to start the show and not finish it. You have to know what happens. It’s sort of like Lost in that respect, which certainly had its great moments but dragged in quite a few seasons. But we stuck through it to get those “answers”, and I suppose were satisfied enough by the end. You should be satisfied here, but it’s often a frustrating journey to get there. Thankfully it’s only eight episodes, which makes it all very doable.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where this show fails to be more than it could have been. Maybe it’s the casting – a mix of great and poor choices (Tonya Pinkins as Mia “Mimi” Corcoran being an example of a great characters, while James Franco serves as a bit of a mixed bag in terms of his performance). Maybe it’s the script – with average dialogue a-plenty. Maybe it’s the length – this could have definitely been cut down a couple of episode. Or maybe it’s just what they chose to focus on. Characters like Mimi and the story of her and Deke (Nick Searcy) being one of the truly great parts of the series, but only a side note to everything else that was going on.

By no means is 11.22.63 a bad series – the level of detail in the show is phenomenal, with some standout cinematography, costumes and set design worthy of particular mention – but it’s far from a great one. Comparisons to the first season of Under The Dome are easy to make – though this is a far superior series and production – and ultimately this comes down to a few too many cliches, average dialogue, some one-dimensional characters and poor casting amidst a show that’s pretty high in detail, concept and intrigue. It’s fair to say that many Stephen King adaptations suffer from similar criticism, but if his style of storytelling is something you like, and if you’re a fan of the time travel genre, then this is a conceptual drama that will get you quickly hooked. Just don’t expect perfection along the way.

Series Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The blu-ray edition of the series comes with a 15 minute special feature “When the Future Fights Back” that looks at the origins and production of the series, with interviews with Steven King, J.J. Abrams and writer/exec-producer Bridget Carpenter alongside members of the cast and crew. It’s a fantastic addition to enjoy after you finish the eight episode series, though it’s fairly slim pickings for a series that brings with it a lot of creative klout – not to mention attention to detail and research. I would have loved to have seen more behind-the scenes footage, as well as some commentaries, but it’s a welcome addition.

Special Features Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

11.22.63 is available from 10th August on Blu-Ray and DVD. It’s also streaming on Stan.

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Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.

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