Based on a Stephen King story, 11.22.63 follows a time traveling English teacher, Jake Epping (James Franco) who is given the impossible task of stopping the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The story itself has a lot of potential and the first episode sets up a fascinating world. However, there are quite a number of elements that can easily undo the efforts if not carefully handled. While the first episode brought us a believable 1960s America, the costumes and set designs were beautifully constructed, there is a risk of the show tripping over its own timelines. But for an opener, The Rabbit Hole was sufficiently intriguing and well paced.
Time travel can be a tricky tool to use. Rules need to be established and explained clearly enough and early enough so that we’re not left wondering what is happening. In 11.22.63, the means of temporal displacement is through “the rabbit hole”, a closet at the back of a local diner owned by Jake’s friend Al (Chris Cooper). Al has been diagnosed with cancer and hasn’t got long to live so he entrusts Jake with this secret. Understandably skeptical, Jake walks through the closet and finds himself in 1960, long before the diner was even built. After his short stint in the past, Al explains to Jake that no matter how long he stays down the rabbit hole only two minutes would have passed in the present. Not only that, going through the rabbit hole will always take him to October 21st, 1960.
So, knowing his final day is near, Al passes his life mission of saving Kennedy on to Jake. Al believes saving Kennedy will undo a lot of turmoil in the world such as the Vietnam War. Jake is reluctant but eventually gives in and goes back in time. Since he is transported back to 1960, Jake has to wait three years before the assassination attempt, which would give him enough time to learn just exactly who it was that pulled the trigger in 1963 and hopefully stop them. It all sounds like a conspiracy theory made into a miniseries, and it partially is, but it’s compelling enough that you’re willing to accept it in order to find out more.
From the opening scenes we are clearly positioned to like Jake Epping. He’s supportive of his mature aged students, seems to be well liked and respected, is recently divorced, appears to believe there is good in everyone. He’s your typical good guy. Not that that’s a bad thing, but as a protagonist there’s not really anything that sets him apart either. The role could’ve easily been played by anyone; perhaps Franco will bring more character to the part as the series progresses. He is a solid character though. One that we can follow, sympathise with and care about as the story happens around him. It’ll be good to see just how far he is going to be pushed. Perhaps it’s cynicism but this type of character in a Stephen King story just can’t end up in a good place. They just can’t.
The show has strong elements of pulp detective stories. There’s intrigue and action, murder and mayhem, heart and emotion, and so on. It’s a whodunit story that has a high risk to be a let down but has enough talent behind it to make it something worthwhile. New episodes of 11.22.63 will be streamed Tuesdays on Stan.