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11.22.63 - Series Advance Preview: "A Creepy, Fun, Unique Ride"

Within 15 minutes, “11.22.63” lets viewers know which elements of its premise have been deemed the most important to the show’s success. The series doesn’t try to be everything to everyone. Specifically, it doesn’t try to meet meticulous science fiction reasoning. This is a time-travel series that doesn’t detail how traveling back to the 1960s is realistically possible. Audiences are just expected to accept it can happen – and move on. The series devotes the bulk of its attention to tone, setting and characters. But if the flimsy setup can be overlooked, that devotion pays off.

Hulu’s newest original scripted series is an eight-part event from J.J. Abrams and best-selling author Stephen King. (SpoilerTV screened the first two episodes.) Based on King’s novel, “11.22.63” follows high school teacher Jake Epping (James Franco), who finds a way to travel back in time, where he tries to prevent President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and change the future. To accomplish that, Jake must live in the past. The problem is, as he works to rewrite history, he discovers the past does not want to be changed. Unexplainable forces operate against him at every step to thwart his actions.

Fans of King will relish the creepy tone of the show. The pilot opens with an old man talking about a Halloween murder that occurred in the ‘60s. Viewers see quick flashes of bloody victims and hear screams while the old man tells the story. The scene then jumps back to present-day, where the focus unexpectedly changes, evoking compassion. But the original tone lingers and later reappears. The series is definitely a thriller, though the creep factor ebbs and flows at just the right pace. The majority of focus and energy is funneled toward plot elements/characters/time period, almost purposely steering the viewer away from genre cognizance. That is, until an unnerving surprise, spooky image or foreboding music suddenly jolts the audience back to awareness. The show isn’t trying to scare like a horror film. The goal seems to be to keep viewers intrigued and surprised without making them feel like they’re going to jump out of their seats.

The eeriness is also balanced by everyday human emotions and realness. Franco’s Jake is a regular Joe, a down-to-earth man who’s a bit stuck. The character’s backstory is somewhat rushed to propel the forward-moving plot. But it’s obvious Jake is a nice, caring guy. He aspires to make a difference around him; he just has to figure out how to accomplish that. But his desires to help people and do the right thing might also drag him into trouble.

Franco was most fun to watch as Jake transforms into a man of the ‘60s, learning how to dress and adapt to another era. In fact, the time period is almost a character itself. The series works hard to capture the essence of America in the early 1960s, utilizing the sights and sounds of the time to build excitement and nostalgia. When Jake first lands in the past, it’s 1960. You see the traditional milkman, the ‘50s-style girls with their ponytails, and men dressed up in their suits and hats. You witness the clean-cut image, the fun cars, the golly-gee attitude and the lower cost of living. These fun details are all used to set the stage and the story.

The story itself was smartly planned to capitalize on a topic of which people can’t get enough: Who killed President Kennedy? Decades after his death, people still debate the ominous possibilities, espousing numerous conspiracy theories and choosing to reject or accept the official explanations. It’s a topic that produces endless intrigue and the show plays with the what-if’s. Did Lee Harvey Oswald actually kill Kennedy? Jake Epping must find that out, investigating all the signs and options.

But the show goes beyond conspiracy fodder to capture a more human element as well. While Jake is looking into the events preceding Kennedy’s death, he is also aware of local events and people he knows from the future. And you can bet he wants to get involved with their lives in the past. This secondary plot was woven masterfully into the rest of the story, providing the most intriguing element of the show by playing up the emotion and humanity of the characters.

Those characters are depicted by a well-honed supporting cast. Chris Cooper plays Al, Jake’s older friend who initially directs Jake to the time travel portal. Cooper infused his character with a palpable desperation as Al works to convince Jake he needs to change the past. And Josh Duhamel, who doesn’t appear until later, stuns (in a good way) in a role that was very different for him – a role I can’t say much about without giving too much away. After the first two episodes, a couple other characters are just starting to emerge, including Sarah Gadon (“Dracula Untold,” “The Amazing Spiderman 2”) as a beautiful librarian to whom Jake is drawn, and George MacKay (“Pride,” Defiance,”) as a bartender who pays close attention to Jake’s actions.

The show’s weak spot lies in the time travel component. The setup was rushed and wasn’t explained with enough detail or thought to encourage believability. And the time-travel premise contradicted the very reality-based, emotional, human elements that preceded it, slowing down the plot. But if you can look past this deficiency, the rewards are fruitful. From the fun, eerie tone to the unique content, the series feels fresh. It’s unlike anything currently on TV. And it promises twists and turns along the way.
“11.22.63” premieres on Hulu February 15 (President’s Day) with a two-hour pilot. The streaming service will then debut one episode a week until the show’s finale on April 4.

Are you planning to watch "11.22.63?" What are you looking forward to seeing? What about the series intrigues you the most? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author - Tonya Papanikolas
Tonya Papanikolas is an online, print and broadcast journalist who loves covering entertainment and television. She spent more than 10 years as a broadcast news anchor and reporter. Now she does everything from hosting to writing. She especially loves writing TV articles and reviews for SpoilerTV.